Tulips, Are They Perennial or Not?

By Allyn Paul, filed under Landscape Tips, Planting Flower Bulbs.



Last fall, I showed you how to plant tulips using a cordless drill. I am now preparing a series of articles where I’ll show you how to plant hundreds of tulips in a landscape bed without breaking your back. But before we get all happy in the dirt, here is a common misconception associated with Holland’s greatest export that I thought I’d share with you.

Are Tulips Perennial?

Perennial means, “returns every year,” as opposed to annual, which means it lives one year and dies.
In truth, tulips are NOT good perennializers, meaning they don’t grow well the second year after being planted. In fact, many of the great minds in the Tulip world will tell you to dig up your tulip bulbs each year in the late spring and throw them away!

The reason tulips are not the best at perennializing is that beautiful bloom we love so much actually sucks all the plant’s energy, making it weak the next year. It’s really kind of romantic if you think about it: the bulb expends all it’s energy on that beautiful cupped flower, but nearly dies in the process. (I hear you crying!) :)

Tulip cultivators and growers over in Holland actually cut a tulip’s flower off just a few short days after it blooms! This allows the energy generated in photosynthesis to be directed to the bulb itself, making it bigger and stronger. This is why bulb retail sites and stores brag about their “big bulbs.” It is also why many of these are more expensive.

Believe it or not, tulip growers have special machines they use to rip the flowers off the tulips in the fields, and then they hire laborers to go in and hand-pick the ones that were missed!

Another tulip killer is the lack of a long, cool Spring in much of the United States. In Holland, longer springs mean more time for the tulip’s leaves to generate energy before withering away in the hot summer. This is why we tell folks to let those leaves remain around as long as possible in the home landscape long after the flowers are gone.

The final tulip inhibitor in the home landscape is the heavy moisture during the summer from irrigation. Tulips do much better when permitted to stay dry during the summer. They don’t like “wet feet.”




The problem here is that most of you are just like me, and when your tulips are gone in June, you still want color pop, so what do you do? You plant some nice annuals like Petunias or Marigolds. You know what that means? Lots and lots of water all summer to keep those Petunias kicking in high gear. It also means wet, soggy bulbs! I just hate soggy bulbs!
Soggy bulbs soften and grow fungus, killing them… or at best, stunting their growth.

Here are the best tips for making your tulips ‘better’ perennializers.

  1. Buy tulips that are known to be stronger for perennializing. Many growers and retailers actually call them “perennial tulips.” The best are the Darwin Hybrids that come in very large sizes and stunning colors. Also, many of the smaller ‘wild’ or ‘species’ do very well year after year. Species tulips have beautiful, exotic displays and come from Turkey, Greece and China.
  2. Cut off the stems when the blooms fade to prevent seed pods from forming. Remember, you want to let the leaves grow in the sun and recharge the bulb for as long as possible, preferable until they turn yellow. But you also should cut the actual stem off or else the bulb will send energy to the production of seeds.
  3. Buy large bulbs to start with. Larger bulbs have more ‘power’ and can survive longer. The best, largest bulbs come from reputable retailers like Breck’s Bulbs online. They have a great website with solid and truthful advice to make your tulip garden burst with spring color. Click here for premium Dutch bulbs from Brecks

Stay tuned here for more updates and advice on tulips! You may want to subscribe to my newsletter by entering your email address in the top right sidebar. I usually update this site 1-2 times per week and the articles are sent right to your inbox. This way you won’t miss a thing!

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