Caring For Tulips

The care information provided in this section represents the kind of practical advice that is available for all the plants on this website if you subscribe to the monthly customized newsletter Yardener’s Advisor.

There are several factors involved in caring for tulips, such as planting depth, regular watering, and avoiding over-fertilization. We have discussed the sections in the following post:

Watering Tulips
If you plant bulbs just before a good soaking fall rain, you won’t need to water them. Otherwise, water them to get them started developing roots. Tulips do not need much water while they’re flowering in the spring, but if rainfall is skimpy as summer progresses water them regularly. This encourages deeper rooting and helps the bulbs store up nutrients for blooming next season. During hot, dry weather, water bulb beds thoroughly once a week as you would all other plants. For information on products see the file on Choosing Watering Equipment

Fertilizing Tulips
If you want to encourage your tulips to bloom again next spring plan to feed them twice a year--in the early fall and again in the early spring just after they start to emerge from the ground and before they bloom. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of a granular bulb fertilizer on the soil around each bulb. Use a slight handful per clump. Do NOT feed tulips immediately after they flower, this just encourages disease.
The fall feeding is the most important, because it encourages root growth for next spring. As a group, Darwins, Darwin hybrids and other tulips are vigorous for only a year or two. Conscientious fertilizing will extend their performance. Plan to add new tulip bulbs to the beds each year to offset those that weaken.



Mulching Tulips
After planting, spread a 1 or 2 inch layer of some organic material such as chopped leaves, shredded bark, evergreen boughs or wood chips, over the bulb bed as a mulch. It will control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Mulching also prevents dirt from splashing up on the flowers when it rains and improves the soil as it gradually decomposes over the season.

Go easy with the mulch. More than 2 inches of mulch will force the tulip stems to travel too far to reach the light next spring. A thicker mulch is okay if you take the time to move the mulch aside when the weather improves in early spring so that the soil can warm up faster and the tulips can emerge easier. For more information see the file on Using Mulch

Pruning or Grooming Tulips
Like most bulbs, tulips need little attention. However, it is important to pinch off their dead flowers before they go to seed if you want them to bloom next spring. Leave the stems and leaves to gradually die back so the foliage continues to get energy from the sun and store nutrients in the bulb for the next season.

Do not cut back the foliage until well into June when it is limp and yellowed. To mask the unattractive dying foliage, plant tulips among low growing green shrubs, ground covers or perennials. They will be emerging and filling in as the tulip leaves flop and will obscure the ripening foliage.

Staking Tulips
Many of the new hybrids have been developed with sturdy stalks. However, others, the huge Darwin hybrids for example, are often top-heavy because of their very large flowers. They may need staking so that spring winds and heavy rain do not knock them over.

Insert an inconspicuous green-painted bamboo stake or similar support several inches into the soil near each stem and foliage before the heavy flower bud opens. Use either a length of green string, a coated wire twist or strip of soft cloth looped first around the supporting stake, then looped loosely around the tulip stem about halfway up. Then fasten it back at the stake.

Propagating Tulips
Many people treat tulips like annuals and purchase new bulbs to replace existing ones each year. However, those left in the soil produce smaller bulbs, or “offsets” each year, attached to the parent bulb. After 2 or 3 years in a bed, these enlarged bulbs become crowded in clumps and need to be divided, or thinned.

To acquire more bulbs from offsets, dig up the mature bulbs after their foliage turns brown in the summer. Carefully shake the soil off their roots, and air dry them in a shady spot for a couple of days. Separate the offsets from the parent bulbs and replant them. They will flower in 1 to 3 years.

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