New to Bulbs - 'Inherited' Tulips Moved but Don't Flower

nicoleternity(6a)April 27, 2012

Hi all,

I usually grow only perennials, but the new house we moved into three springs ago had a few random tulips growing in the grass - about two dozen if you include their offshoots.

I rescued them and put them in a rich new bed, knowing they might be too old to produce flowers, or die because I moved them at a bad time...

They seem to be flourishing in terms of foliage, and none seem to have died. I divided them and admittedly planted even the baby bulbs.

I'm wondering if it's worth keeping them in their 2x3 plot for another year and see if they bloom; this is what I was planning to do, but...

Then I read a few things (I have no idea if they are true):

1. that you have to lift and store them every fall

2. that new bulb offshoots may never flower

3. that if you let tulip foliage die down into the soil it will "poison" the soil

I also do not know if it is true that older tulips (these might be like 20+ years old according to the neighbor lady) don't produce blooms -- or if that is only if they aren't divided or you don't get the bulblets going.

Anyway, any thoughts would be helpful - apologize that I don't know the type but they are just "foundlings." They are medium to small in terms of foliage, as far as what I've seen on other tulips (they are about 8 inches high, and much much smaller than my big irises).


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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I measure the circumference of the bulb to determine if it will flower. Usually 12cm or about four inches will flower if chilled enough which should not be a problem in your zone. Good luck. Al

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 7:49PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Tulip folliage certainly doesn't hurt anything as it dies back. As to if they will flower, I don't know.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 9:57PM
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With the exception of some species tulips, most others are treated as annuals - planted for a single season and then new, fresh bulbs planted for the following season. The reason for that is that most tulips are hybridized - some very heavily so - and the ability to perennialize or return year after year has been bred out of them in favor of other attributes, like flower size or color. There are some, like the Darwin hybrids, that will come back but even these seem to dwindle in size and vigor as years go on.

The short version is that I wouldn't waste my time on these bulbs. Buy fresh ones to your liking each fall and call it good. As to what you've been told or read, they do not need to be dug and stored - they are fully winter hardy in your climate, just not likely to perform well after the first season. The offsets do need to grow to size before they will flower but ripened tulip foliage poses NO toxic impact to soil.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 6:31PM
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Tulips are not annuals!

Tulips were originally plants of poor, dry soils, with cold winters & hot, dry summers. They are often treated as annuals in warmer zones because it doesn't get cold enough, but you should be OK.

I have never had a tulip not come back & bloom, even the hybrids, & I don't lift them unless they get crowded. The baby bulbs may be too immature to flower yet, & I've had problems getting rid of tulips that were over 20 years old.. missed a couple of bulbs and they came back with a vengence. So those are myths. Certainly, because of breeding they are variable, but I've never found them to be *that* finicky.

& no, they don't poison the soil. Cutting them back weakens them & reduces the chances that they will come back & bloom.

Your problem may be that the new bed is TOO rich.. that's what the lush foliage suggests. If this was their first year in the new bed, I'd leave them & see what they do next year. If they were pretty tulips, don't give up on them. If you want to move them to a new bed, let the foliage die back on its own before digging them up, then store them in a paper bag in a dry place until late fall/early winter before replanting.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 9:58AM
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No one said tulips were annuals - just that they are most often treated as annuals, as their ability to return year after year like daffodils or crocus has been compromised by breeding. This is a very widely acknowledged and accepted contention. Even professional bulb growers admit this to be true. Review the attached link from one of the largest tulip bulb wholesalers in the country.

Here is a link that might be useful: perennial tulips - NOT!!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Thanks for the all feedback; for now I will leave them since it's their first year in a new bed. If they don't flower next year perhaps they are too old and petered out.

Also maybe some of the bulblets will be big enough by next year.

I just loved the idea that someone planted these long ago at this home and maybe they could continue to grow here. But I'm definitely not into tulips enough to plants bulbs every fall or anything; I'm only into them if they happen to be a vigorous type take off on their own :). They did come back year after year, but they were not in a sunny spot so as to flowering I don't know. Now they get sun so we'll see!

Thanks again,


    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 4:20PM
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gardengal, it really depends on your climate. If you got dug up every year & chucked in a freezer you might feel a bit under the weather yourself ;-)

As for hybrids being weak.. most garden tulips are hybrids, & of 20-odd tulip varieties on my block I'm the ONLY one with species tulips. No one here digs up their tulips. Across the road there's a clump of hybrid tulips that have been there at least 40 years in complete neglect, had a hedge planted on top of them, had the hedge removed, and they are there every year, faithfully. I fought a garden hybrid for 10 years, I'd miss one bulblet & the next year it would be back.

Tulips seem to love this climate, & that's probably the key here.

Some hybrids may be weaker, absolutely, but there's something called hybrid vigor, too. Think of mules. I do every time I try to move one of these stubborn beggers. :-)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2012 at 11:03PM
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tuliper(7B RVA)

They're treated as annuals throughout the northeast. Period. I always have some that come back for many years- most hybrids however (perhaps 90%) will not. I've moved from New England to Maryland and find the dry summers here to help their return even moreso. Luckily for bulbs they are pretty cheap @, compared to fragrant lillies & hyacynths.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 2:04PM
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These are definitely coming up every year (they are like 20+ years old). My question isn't whether they come back, but whether they might flower in future years if they have not for the past two.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 1:47PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

If you give them the conditions they need the small bulbs will bloom again in two or so years. They do not get too old. Some of the oldest tulip varieties out there date back hundreds of years and started with one bulb that split and split and split....

Tulips do well for me here in the northeast and last for several years. After 4-5 years they are too crowded and need division but otherwise no problems. I don't water much btw....

If you are ambitious, lift the bulbs after the foliage yellows and replant them in the fall. I have a couple beds I treat this way and they put on a great show each year.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 8:18AM
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Thanks! I will leave them as a couple people have suggested and maybe they will bloom next year - and some of those bulblets might be big enough to bloom by then.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 10:13AM
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I want to just put my tulips, pot, dirt, and all in the garage until next winter. Has anyone done this or do you actually have to take the tulips out of the soil?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2012 at 5:57PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Hi Ellekitty, welcome to Gardenweb.

I've never tried what you mention but I can imagine a couple problems that could happen. The first, not knowing where you are, it's hard to say if it would get cold enough in your garage. The other concern would be keeping them from completely drying out without overwatering them. It would be easy to forget about them. But depending on where you are and how conscientious you are, it could be possible.

It's best to start a new discussion for a new question, hopefully you'll hear from some folks who have tried this successfully.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 9:03AM
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"I always have some that come back for many years- most hybrids however (perhaps 90%) will not."

Almost every tulip in your garden is a hybrid. Including the ones that come back. My experience with tulips is that it all comes down to climate. Some tulips will tolerate warmer winters than others & it has nothing to do with hybridization... many species tulips would not come back in your zone, either.

look to your weather.

Ellekitty: what zone? With potted bulbs I usually take them out of the pot when they go dormant & store them in a paper bag (in a tin) until late fall planting.. no need to keep over winter. This prevents rot if the pot is holding moisture. But that only works if you have freezing winters.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 12:08PM
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