One of the most beautiful and well-known flowers is the tulip. They are a symbol of spring and can be found in many gardens throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Tulips bloom from late March to April with vibrant colours that range from white to red. But what do you do with tulip bulbs after flowering? Read on for some ideas! Although Tulips are not particularly high maintenance, learning what to do with Tulip bulbs after flowering will ensure that they return to brighten up your springtime year after year.
What are Tulip Bulbs?
Tulip bulbs are the term for the bulb (the part below ground), with a tunic (the protective layer around it) and corm (its fleshy storage organ). This storage organ is what provides energy through dormancy in the winter months and enables the tulip to grow and flower in the springtime. The centre of the bulb is an unexpanded flowering shoot from which new stems and leaves emerge and the basal plate is formed by a reduced stem from where the roots will grow.
What to do with Tulip Bulbs after Flowering
As we mentioned previously, tulips are low maintenance and with the right care, they will continue to come back year after year. There are a couple of ways to look after tulip bulbs after flowering and that depends on whether you plan to lift them or leave them in the ground.
Caring for Tulip Bulbs left in the Ground
Leaving tulip bulbs in the ground is likely to be the easiest option and you do not require any kind of technical skill to be able to do this although there are a couple of minor things that you will need to think about
1. Remove Stem and Dead Head
As soon as the flower has faded and died, you will want to remove the stem and head. This is to conserve the plant’s energy stores as the next stage in the plant’s life cycle would be trying to create seeds.
2. Leave the Leaves Alone
When removing the stem, be careful to leave the leaves in place until they die back on their own. The leaves will continue to absorb energy from the sun and through photosynthesis, the sun’s energy is converted into vital sugars that are stored in the bulb for the following season.
3. Leave Alone
Once all the foliage has died back and the bulb has once again become dormant, there is nothing left for you to do. There is no need to water the area or tend to it at all until you fertilise it in the early spring. I did tell you that tulips were low maintenance!
Lifting and Storing Tulip Bulbs
Lifting your bulbs will obviously require a little more work than just leaving them in the ground. Lifting them can be done for many reasons as you may want to move them the following spring or the ground where they remain may get extremely waterlogged through the winter.
Steps 1 & 2
Steps 1 & 2 are the same as above. You will want to ensure that you remove the stem and deadhead the flower but continue letting the foliage continue to grow and absorb sunlight, therefore, refuelling the bulb’s energy stores.
3. Lift Your Bulbs
Once the foliage has all but died back, you can lift your bulbs. Dig an area around the bulbs being careful not to scratch or scar them as this open wound can leave your bulb susceptible to disease and rot.
If you decide to lift and store your tulip bulbs, it’s an excellent opportunity to refresh the soil in your tulip bed. Turn it over, remove any weeds or debris, and mix in some compost or rotted manure to enrich it. This will ensure a fertile ground for when you replant your bulbs or add new ones.
4. Clean your Bulbs
Once your bulbs have been lifted, they will require cleaning. It is best to do this with a soft brush. Gently shake off any excess soil and then using a soft brush, give the bulb a clean. Do not use water as introducing water now before storing could cause them to rot.
5. Store your Bulbs for Winter
If stored correctly, your bulbs will usually keep through winter with no problems. We recommend using a cardboard box for storage as this will let the bulbs breathe as using plastics can cause the bulbs to sweat and rot. First, put a layer of newspaper in the bottom of the cardboard box and then add your first layer of bulbs being careful to ensure they are not touching one another. Cover with some newspaper and repeat.
You will want to keep your box of bulbs in a cool, dark place such as the garage or basement or somewhere that is not too damp.
6. Simulating Winter
If the place you have stored your tulip bulbs is not cool enough (you kept them indoors for example), around 6-8 weeks before planting, you will want to put them into the fridge for cold stratification. Cold stratification is our way of simulating the cold winter conditions that the bulb would experience if it had stayed in the ground!
Do Tulip Bulbs Need Fertilising?
Indeed, tulip bulbs benefit from fertilising. However, it’s crucial to understand when and how to do it correctly.
When Should I Fertilise Tulips?
- Autumn (At Planting Time): When you first plant your tulip bulbs in autumn, it’s beneficial to add some bulb fertiliser or bone meal to the planting hole. This initial nutrient boost supports root development.
- Spring (During Growth): As the tulips start to show in spring, you can provide them with another light feed. This aids in supporting vigorous growth and flowering.
- After Flowering: After the tulips have bloomed, a final feed can help replenish the nutrients the plant utilised during the blooming period. This step is essential if you intend to encourage your tulips to bloom again the subsequent year.
What Type of Fertiliser is Best For Tulips?
- Bulb-specific Fertilisers: These are tailored to offer the precise nutrients tulips and other bulbs need.
- Bone Meal: This organic option is phosphorus-rich, promoting healthy root and flower development. Spread it in the planting hole or on the soil’s surface.
- Slow-release Fertilisers: These are particularly useful in spring since they release nutrients over time.
How to Fertilise Tulips?
- For Newly Planted Bulbs: Mix the fertiliser into the soil at the bottom of the planting hole or layer it, ensuring there’s soil between the fertiliser and the bulb to prevent potential bulb burn.
- For Established Plantings: In spring, sprinkle the fertiliser around the base of the emerging plants and incorporate it gently into the soil, being careful not to disturb the bulbs.
Tulip bulbs are extremely low maintenance and do not really take much in the way of looking after them. As long as you let the leaves continue to grow after the flower has gone, they will still be able to store enough energy to flower the next spring. Many people will just mow over the leaves once the flower has gone but this is not a good idea as you will end up with stunted tulips the next spring and that is if they even grow at all. If you need to lift and store your tulip bulbs, it is not too difficult either providing you follow the steps that we have laid out for you, you will have beautiful tulips year after year.
Garden Doctor Tips
“If storing bulbs for winter, check on them every 4 weeks to ensure that none of them has rotted and gone mushy, if any have, throw them away immediately!”
“Over time, tulip clusters will expand. Lift and separate bulbs every 3 years and plant a few elsewhere to establish new clusters!”
“Replant stored bulbs in early spring once the ground has thawed!”
“Do not forget to leave the foliage in the ground until it dies back on its own. The bulb needs the foliage for photosynthesis!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How many years do tulip bulbs last?
Tulip bulbs that are in storage will last around 12 months before they require planting. Tulips that are left in the ground and are properly cared for will rebloom for many years.
What to do with Tulip bulbs after flowering?
Trim back the stem and leave the foliage to grow. The foliage will continue absorbing sunlight and storing energy in the bulb for the next growing season. Once the foliage has died back, the bulbs can either be left in place and fertilised in the spring or they can be lifted and stored.
Do you have to dig up tulip bulbs every year?
No, tulips do not need to be lifted every year. Tulips will do fine being in the ground through the winter although it is a good idea to lift bulbs every 3 or 4 years to separate the bulb clusters.
Do tulip bulbs last forever?
No, not all tulip bulbs will last forever, even with the best care. If you notice fewer blooms or the flowers are smaller than usual, it might be time to replace your bulbs. After lifting the old bulbs, you can plant fresh ones in the same spot, ensuring a vibrant display the following spring.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.