Tulips are a popular spring-blooming flower that grows from bulbs. After tulips finish flowering in late spring or early summer, their leaves start to yellow and brown. This leaves many gardeners wondering what they should do with the bulbs after the blooms are gone.
Can Tulip Bulbs Be Left in the Ground?
Many gardeners choose to leave tulip bulbs in the ground after flowering. This allows the leaves to fully ripen, which strengthens the bulb for future growth and flowering. Here are some tips on leaving bulbs in place:
- Allow the foliage to brown completely before removing it. This may take 4-6 weeks after blooming.
- Do not cut the leaves or dig up the bulbs until they have fully ripened. Cutting leaves early can weaken the bulb.
- Let the soil dry out a bit after bloom. Overwatering during leaf ripening can cause bulb rot.
- Consider marking the spots where bulbs are planted to help avoid accidentally digging them up later.
- Sprinkle bulb fertilizer around each plant when the soil is moist to feed bulbs for next year’s growth.
The main downside to leaving tulip bulbs in the ground is that it ties up garden space for several weeks after flowering has finished. The area planted with tulips cannot be replanted until the foliage has died back.
Should Tulip Bulbs Be Dug Up and Stored?
Many gardeners choose to dig up tulip bulbs each year and store them over summer for replanting in fall. Reasons you may want to dig up bulbs include:
- To use the garden space for summer annuals or other plants
- If you don’t want tulips in the same spot next year
- To store the largest bulbs for replanting and compost the smaller ones
- In climates with hot summers where bulbs may not survive well in the ground
When digging up and storing bulbs, follow these tips:
- Again, let foliage yellow and die back completely before digging.
- Carefully dig bulbs using a garden fork, being careful not to slice or damage them.
- Gently separate dirt from bulbs by hand and allow to air dry for 1-2 days.
- Remove any loose peel or skin from the bulbs.
- Sort through the bulbs, keeping only the largest, healthiest ones for replanting.
- Place bulbs in a breathable bag or mesh sack.
- Store bulbs in a cool, dry place for summer. A root cellar, unheated garage or basement are good options.
- Replant the stored bulbs in fall at proper depth for your climate.
Can Tulips be Left in Pots After Flowering?
Tulips are commonly grown in pots and planters. When kept in containers, bulbs cannot be left to die back completely like in the garden. However, with proper care, potted tulip bulbs can be saved from year to year.
- Keep watering and allow leaves to yellow as much as possible before trimming.
- Trim back leaves to about 3-4 inches once they start looking ratty.
- Move the pot to a cool, dry location out of direct sun for 6-8 weeks.
- Keep the potting soil slightly moist but not wet.
- After 6-8 weeks, dump out the pot and carefully separate the bulbs.
- Follow storage instructions above before replanting in fall.
With extra care, it is possible to get potted tulip bulbs to rebloom in subsequent years. However, their performance often diminishes over time when kept in pots.
Do I Need to Deadhead Tulips?
Deadheading is removing spent blooms from a plant by pinching or cutting them off. For tulips, deadheading is not strictly necessary but can help improve their appearance after flowering.
Reasons you may want to deadhead tulips include:
- To prevent seed pods forming – tulip seed pods pull energy away from the bulb.
- To tidy up the appearance of the garden as blooms fade.
- To prevent self-sowing – tulip seeds may sprout new plants where not wanted next year.
To deadhead tulips, simply pinch or snip off the flower head just behind the bloom once petals start falling and looking ragged. Be careful not to damage developing seed pods if you want to collect tulip seeds.
Deadheading is optional. If you leave spent blooms in place, they will naturally dry up and can be removed when foliage is cut back.
Can I Plant Something Over Tulips?
Because tulip foliage needs 4-6 weeks after blooming to fully ripen, it’s best not to plant other flowers or vegetables over them too soon. Any plants covering tulip foliage will block sunlight and prevent proper ripening.
However, lower-growing plants can be planted around tulips to cover fading foliage:
- Pansies, violas, and other low edging plants
- Lower perennials like sedum or creeping phlox
- Annuals like lobelia, alyssum, or petunias
Once tulip foliage has turned yellow and died back, tender annuals, vegetables, or heat-loving replacement flowers can be planted in the same bed for summer color.
Should I Cut Back Tulip Foliage?
As mentioned above, it is best not to cut back tulip leaves until they have completely turned brown and died back on their own. Tulips need those leaves to finish feeding the bulb for next year’s bloom.
However, you can trim tulip foliage for aesthetic reasons if needed. Here are some guidelines:
- Wait at least 4 weeks after blooms finish before cutting any leaves.
- Start by cutting leaves in half vertically first, then trim back further a week later.
- If plants start looking unsightly, cut leaves down to 3-4 inches but allow the tips to remain green.
- Once leaves are fully brown and dry, they can be removed completely.
Cutting leaves too soon may reduce the size and number of blooms next spring. But judicious trimming can help the garden look tidy.
Can I Transplant Tulip Bulbs?
Tulip bulbs can be transplanted to move them to a new location, thin overcrowded plantings, or rearrange garden design. However, there are some important tips to transplanting bulbs successfully:
- Dig up bulbs only after foliage has ripened fully, around early summer.
- Replant bulbs in fall at their new location at the proper planting depth.
- Space bulbs 3-6 inches apart depending on variety.
- Water thoroughly after replanting and apply compost or fertilizer to help recovery.
- Keep soil moist but not soaked until fall rains begin.
Transplanting bulbs in fall risks damaging them before they have a chance to root. Always allow foliage to die back before digging up bulbs to move them.
Can Tulips be Split or Divided?
Mature tulip bulbs can be split or divided to propagate new, younger bulbs. This can create more bulbs to replant from an existing stock. Follow these steps:
- Lift bulbs carefully after foliage has died back.
- Separate bulblets that may have formed around the main bulb.
- Using a sharp, sterilized knife, cut the main bulb into segments.
- Each segment should have a portion of the original skin and shoot bud to grow.
- Allow cuts to dry 24 hours before replanting.
- Replant bulb segments 3-4 inches deep and 6 inches apart in fall.
- Water well and fertilize to encourage growth. Newly divided bulbs may not bloom well their first season.
Dividing large, mature bulbs helps generate many new bulbs. Only divide when bulbs are vigorous and healthy to get the best results.
Should I Fertilize Tulips After Flowering?
Feeding tulip bulbs is recommended to replenish nutrients lost from bloom and leaf growth. Apply a balanced bulb fertilizer or compost when foliage is about halfway yellowed.
- Choose a fertilizer with more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen to fuel root and flower growth.
- Sprinkle granular fertilizer around plants and scratch gently into soil.
- For bulbs left in place, water in well. For bulbs being dug up, apply fertilizer lightly prior to digging.
- Bone meal, bulb food blends or compost make good organic tulip fertilizers.
Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flower size. Target feeds to support root, bulb and bud development.
How Long Do Tulip Bulbs Last?
When cared for properly, tulip bulbs can continue flowering for 3-5 years or longer. Some factors that influence bulb longevity include:
- Initial Bulb Size – Larger bulbs tend to have more stored energy and last longer than smaller bulbs from the start.
- Soil Conditions – Well-draining soil with nutrients available supports bulbs better than heavy or nutrient deficient soil.
- Climate – Hot summer climates are harder on bulbs left in the ground than cooler climates.
- Leaf Ripening – Allowing foliage to fully ripen each year keeps bulbs vigorous longer.
- Depth – Proper planting depth for the climate protects bulbs from temperature extremes.
- Pest & Disease Pressure – Preventing issues like bulb mites, rots, and viruses extends bulb life.
With optimal care, Darwin hybrid tulips and other types bred for perennialization may bloom for 5-8 years. Species tulips have shorter life spans of just 2-3 years on average.
Signs It’s Time to Replace Tulip Bulbs
It’s best to lift and replace tulip bulbs when flowering and performance start to decline. Signs your tulip bulbs need replacing include:
- Smaller blooms each year
- Fewer flowers per bulb
- Foliage that yellows or dies back earlier
- No flowers for a season or empty stems with no bloom
- Evidence of virus, rot, or pest damage on bulbs
- Bulbs that are soft, damaged, or diseased when dug up
Plan to replant tulips in a different bed every 3 years and replace the oldest bulbs entirely every 5-6 years for best results.
Can I Save Tulip Seeds?
Many tulips produce seed pods at the tips of stems after flowering. If left to mature, these pods will burst and scatter seeds when ripe. It is possible to collect tulip seeds to propagate more plants.
- Allow seed pods to mature fully and dry on plants.
- Collect pods when they turn light brown and brittle.
- Spread pods out to dry further indoors, then crush gently to extract seeds.
- Clean and store seeds in envelopes labeled with details.
- Sow seeds outdoors in fall about 1/4 inch deep.
- Cover with screening to protect from digging animals.
- Seeds take 2-3 years to grow into blooming bulbs.
Collecting seeds from hybrid tulips will not produce true copies of the parent. Seed-grown bulbs exhibit a range of colors, forms, and heights.
Caring for tulip bulbs properly after they bloom is the key to getting those bulbs to reflower successfully for years to come. Allow foliage to fully ripen before digging up bulbs or removing leaves. Keep bulbs cool and dry if storing over summer and replant at the right depth in fall. With optimal post-bloom care, tulip bulbs can keep producing flowers season after season.