Dave’s Gardening Corner: Tulips

If you have tulips, you are probably noticing that they are wilting away to nothing about now. If they haven’t started yet, the will soon. Tulips in general don’t survive outdoors beyond the end of May. Of course, this depends heavily on your climate.

You have three options now:

  • You can pull your tulips and throw them away.
  • You can pull them and store them for next year.
  • You can leave them be.

If your tulips produced unsatisfactory results this year, it’s best to pull them now and start over. If you have hybrid tulips, you are only going to get a few good years, so this may be a forced option unless you are letting them spread; Just remember, it takes several years for tulips to start producing good blooms from seed. You can tell a hybrid because they have multiple colors and tend to be much taller than your standard tulip.

The second option is to pull them, prep them, and save them for planting in the fall. This is a good option if you plan on planting in the same bed and are worried that you will damage the bulbs. If you aren’t going to dig that deep, I wouldn’t worry about it since tulip bulbs should be placed about 6 inches down. However, if you do decide to pull them, now is the time. First rule of pulling bulbs for later planting: WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE DONE GROWING! If you pull any earlier, the bulbs won’t have maximum time to replenish their strength, and you won’t have great flowers next year. You might even kill the bulb.
To pull the bulbs, follow the dying foliage down to the bulb. Pull the bulb out and cut away the roots and stalk. Store them in a cool, dark, dry place. It’s really about that simple. You do want to protect them from moisture. A tulip bulb is quite similar to any other bulb (like an onion), and you should treat it the same.

Your last option is, of course, just to leave the tulips in the ground. This is the best option if you aren’t worried about damaging the bulbs or want your tulips to spread naturally. Tulips will, if left alone, take over a well-maintained bed and create a beautiful and thick display. The only thing you really need to do is cut off the dead and dying foliage. You are then free to plant something new on top of the tulips as long as you take care not to damage the underlying bulbs.

Personally, I leave my tulips in the ground. Once they die, I plant something smaller (petunias, marigolds, etc.) over the top. It’s simpler, it helps them spread and grow, and I don’t run the risk of storing them incorrectly. The only time I’d ever pull a tulip is if I noticed that one grew in a bad spot (too close to the sidewalk, house, etc. or under something else). I’d pull that and immediately replant it. Make sure you plant it root-side down (that’s the flatter side).

HANDY TIP FOR PLANTING BULBS: If you are ever confused about which side of a bulb is up, just plant it on its side. The plant knows which way is up and will grow just fine.

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2 Responses to Dave’s Gardening Corner: Tulips

  1. nosurfgirl says:

    We’re leaving our tulips for another year. Ours only lasted till about the middle of may– I think they were planted in a too-sunny location.

  2. Trip says:

    Thanks! We will be leaving ours in then!

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