What To Do With Tulips After They Bloom: 4 Essential Tasks 1

Tulips will come back year after year with their colorful, showy blossoms, because they are bulbous perennials. But, whether they come back after the first year depends on the right care and attention as soon as the blossoms are spent. Actually, even as soon as the flowers drop the first petal.

If you don’t, you will be faced with the far too common disappointment many amateur gardeners get: the first year, your tulip bulbs will produce a wonderful floral display, but as early as year two, you will only get weak stems, small leaves and really under par tulip blossoms.

So, to guide you step by step on what to do with tulips after they bloom, when to do it, and how to do it, we have drawn on many years of gardening experience and put all the necessary care and best tips together. By following these steps, you will be able to enjoy their dazzling hues year after year.

What To Do With Tulips After They Bloom: 4 Essential Tasks 2

Step One: Deadhead the Spent Tulip Blossoms

The very first thing you need to do as soon as your tulip flowers have wilted, is to deadhead the spent bloom. It is important to remove only the flower head, and not the foliage. Never allow tulips to produce seed heads. If they do, they will stop sending nutrients to the bulbs for next year’s blooms and focus of strengthening the seeds.

In fact, most gardeners do not even wait for the blooms to have wilted; as soon as they drop some petals, they deadhead the flower head. And deadheading tulips is a simple operation.

  • Use some secateurs.
  • Take the stem, and follow it down to the first leaf.
  • Cut the flower stem just above the first leaf.

It is really as simple as this! But you will need to keep an eye on your tulips at the end of their flowering season, because the sooner you deadhead them, the stronger your bulbs will be for next year’s blooms!

Step Two: Allow the Foliage to Die Back

Allow the Foliage to Die Back

The next phase is a waiting game, but not a long one. Tulip leaves will stay on for about 4 to 6 weeks after the blooms. Until the foliage dies back, leave them alone! In this phase, you flowering perennial is simply storing as much energy as possible back into the bulb from the decaying foliage, which will grow and fatten, and be ready for next year’s blossoms.

  • Until the foliage is green, it will produce carbohydrates to feed the bulb, so, wait till the remaining foliage will die back and slowly turn fully yellow.
  • A tip to make sure that the bulbs get strong and big is to feed the tulips with a fast release, organic liquid fertilizer during this period.
  • Once they are, use secateurs and cut the whole plant down to ground level. Be careful not to pull them! You could damage the bulb.
  • Put a stick, a label, a sign of any sort (even a golf tee) that tells you where the bulb is.
  • Stop watering your tulip bulbs at this stage. You don’t want the soil to be wet when the bulb goes into dormancy.

And now you are at a crossroads: you can leave the tulip bulbs in the ground or take them out and store them in a cool, dark and dry place over the summer months.

Should You Leave Your Tulips in the Ground?

Should You Leave Your Tulips in the Ground

You will get conflicting views on whether you should uproot your tulip bulbs and store them away during the summer months or leave them in ground. Let’s try to solve this problem, because the best option is not the same for everybody.

The key point is that it depends on where you live and tulip varieties you’re growing.

  • If summers are dry, you can leave your tulip bulbs in the ground. These bulbous perennials do not come from humid Holland, but from Turkey and Central Asia, where summers are hot and dry, and this actually helps the bulbs become healthy, get rid of pathogens and be ready for next year.
  • If summers are wet, you should definitely uproot the bulbs and store them in a cool, dry and dark place.
  • If you have any doubts on how to do this, do read our detailed article on how to store tulip bulbs over the summer months.
  • If you live in a region with hot and dry summers, however, you can still take the tulips out of the soil and store them over the hot months.

If and Where You Should Leave Tulip Bulbs in the Ground in the USA

In the USA, for example, if you live on the East Coast, where summers are wet (especially in South Carolina), leaving tulip bulbs in the soil is risky. In Florida, and similar climate areas, tulips are usually treated as annuals, and the bulbs discarded after they bloom.

On the other hand, in Eastern Central states, where summers are fairly cool and dry, leaving the bulbs in the ground is common and safe.

In Northern Central states, tulips naturalize easily, so your best and easiest option is to leave them in the ground, because summers are cool and dry – perfect for the bulbs to rest!

In states like Texas, Arizona and southern California, you have dry summer, but also very warm springs. In this case, you can leave them in the ground, and they may survive, but you do have a problem when you plant them… They will not grow tall, producing stems that can be as short as 3 inches (7.5 cm).

For this reason, you should buy pre chilled bulbs and plant them as late as December or even January. Take them out of the soil once they have blossomed, and you don’t need to treat them as annuals, you can pre chill them yourself using your own refrigerator.

To do this, leave them in the fruit and vegetable drawer of your fridge for between 8 and 14 weeks. Take them out and keep them in a cool place (like a cellar) and when you see the first buds, plant them in the soil.

Step Three: Fertilize Your Tulip Bulbs – Do’s and Don’ts

The next step is, of course, to feed the tulip bulbs if you leave them in the ground after they finish blooming. And here is what you should and shouldn’t do. Let us start with the don’ts.

  • Do not feed your tulips after you have cut this year’s blooms down. This is a common mistake. The bulb needs to go into dormancy (asleep) and fertilizing it after finished blooming may give it the wrong signal and even push bulb’s energy to send out new leaves at the wrong time!
  • Do not use a fast release fertilizer. This too may jumpstart your bulbs.

And now, what you actually need to do…

  • Feed your tulip bulbs in fall. This is when the roots start working again, long before the bulb produces new leaves.
  • Feed your tulips again in spring. This is when the bulbs need a lot of energy to produce beautiful blooms for the next year. The exact time is when you see the first leaves come out of the ground.
  • Use a slow release organic fertilizer. The “panacea” for bulbs is bone meal, and all gardeners sing its praises, but good compost will do very well too.

This is all you need to do if you have chosen to leave the bulbs of your tulips in the ground after they finished flowering, otherwise…

Step Four: Re-Plant Your Tulip Bulbs

If you have stored your tulips over the summer months, wait till fall before planting tulip bulbs. When exactly to replant fresh bulbs, depends on the hardiness zone you live in:

What To Do With Tulips After They Bloom: 4 Essential Tasks 3
  • In USDA zones 3 to 5, plant your tulip bulbs in September.
  • In USDA zones 6 to 7, plant fresh tulip bulbs in October.
  • In USDA zones 8 and above, plant your tulip bulbs in November or December.

How to plant tulips in the ground is simple:

  • Prepare the soil so that it is fertile, organically rich and very well drained.
  • Dig a hole (with a dibber, bulb planter or any other tool) that is larger than the bulb and 6 to 8 inches deep (15 to 20 cm).
  • Plant the tulip bulb in the hole.
  • Cover the bulbs with soil.
  • Fertilize as we explained before.

Tulip Aftercare

It is easy to forget the needs of your tulips after they finished blooming. But if you follow these simple steps and tips, you can be sure to see the bulbs grow beautiful flowers, healthy leaves and strong stems year after year. And they are not really difficult!

Amber Noyes

Written By

Amber Noyes

Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.

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