What can you do to improve the odds of Tulips naturalizing?

HighlanderNorthDecember 6, 2011

I bought 2 types of tulips back in 2004. The first was a bulk bag of medium sized red tulips for about $10.99 for 50 bulbs. The 2nd was a slightly larger red/yellow bi-color that came in bags of 8 for about $5.99 - $6.99.

I planted the cheaper red ones in a straight line across the front of my front beds, and the bi-colored ones in 3 patches of 5, just behind the red ones in between 4 small shrubs in the same bed.

The next spring ALL tulips grew and flowered.

The following spring all bi-colored tulips came up and flowered, but only about 40% of the red ones came up.

The following spring, ALL bi-colors came up again and bloomed, but only about 10-15% of the red ones came up, but only 1/2 bloomed.

The 4th season, there seemed to be more bi-colored tulips than I'd originally planted, and only 2-3 red tulips came up with -0- blooms.

^^What's up with all that?^^

So, I was told that Darwin Tulips and Species tulips as well as some smaller tulips are the only tulips that will naturalize or perinnealize. The other varieties will die off the next year or within a few years.

But another lady at another bulb company told me that even Darwins and Species tulips, as well as smaller tulips will only keep coming up for a few years, then die off.

She said that they might produce new bulbs underground, but these new bulbs are immature, and will die off without producing new bulbs of their own, then ALL the tulips that were originally planted will be dead and gone, and will need to be replaced.

She also said that there is nothing you can do to reliably help guarantee that they will come back the next season.

She also said NOT to plant the tulip bulbs deeper than recommended, or you will cause more problems and make things worse. She said that planting tulips deeper to benefit them is a myth(?)

So, I am going to be planting some very nice fringed, peony type, Parrot, and double tulips in the next few days. I'd really hate for them not to come back, so what is the truth?

I plan on planting most in medium sized pots, with large holes in the bottom.

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Every logical thinking person can see the lady talks rubbish

If you can buy them ,it is possible to multiply them

the real story (the simple version)
tulip bulbs die after flowering and making seeds (same as crocus and some other bulbs or corms
They produce new bulbs
for that they need a lot of energy (fertiliser)
making seeds cost a lot of energy
That's why Growers take out the flower as soon as they colour (saves energy and the new bulbs will be bigger)

some Tulips need more energy as other (I eat more as my wife)
that's why one is doing better as the other

So your solution is simple
and take out the seed-pot
as soon as they are out of flower
and if the spring is dry
they need some water
otherwise they can't take up the nutrients

By the way
this doesn't help you for next season
the bulbs are still small and probably don't flower
what you do is always for one year later


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 3:33AM
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Planting tulips 12 cm soil above the bulb
There are a few exceptions in the botanical tulips
but they manage that them self
the year after planting they are on the right depth (as most bulbs do)

For planting in pots
Never use pure peat based potting mixture
Tulips (many other bulbs) don't like peat based potting mixtures
Always use loam based potting mixture
with lava stones and perlite
use as fertiliser for example NPK 7-14-28 + micro
The bigger the pot the better the result


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 3:45AM
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No, the lady does not speak rubbish. It all depends on your climate..... Most tulips, especially the classic ones, require a long cool moist spring followed by a baking hot dry summer.....a typical climate in Asia minor and the former Soviet republics. Most nice gardening regions are simply unable to provide those conditions naturally and those areas that can, see gardeners watering during the summer. That's why the Dutch lift them in the summer....to give them that dry period (Holland is not naturally dry) and prepare the large ones for sale. Some will persist longer than others depending on the % of genes retained from the few tulip species native to wetter climates. The bulbs simply aren't able to maintain the size they require for reliable flowering and in some cases disappear entirely. Fertilizing the heck out of them is not a great solution either, as tulips do not typically occur in very rich soils.

Botanical tulips are a little more adaptable because they are still able to flower when the bulb size is sub-optimal. Additionally, some of the botanical tulips originate from wetter climates, a good adaptation for us gardeners. Bottom line....the mid-atlantic is not an ideal climate for classic tulips.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 3:04PM
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I am a bulbgrower


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 5:09PM
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And you're very knowledgeable about growing medium, deadheading, and fertilizers!!

However, tulip bulbs (like all true bulbs), do not 'die' then regrow anew every year like corms do. Additionally, you do not even mention climate as having a role in growing tulips yet it is the #1 reason for classic tulip decline in gardens (#2 is probably irrigation, but that's really an extension of #1).
It is possible to perennialize classic tulips in a garden, but in the mid-atlantic region (USA), it's going to require a lot of 'management'. Conversely, in a cold dry continental climate (such as Montana or Alberta), it is possible to have very healthy flowering perennial classic tulips without any human intervention whatsoever.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 7:08PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I think bulborum gave some great advice, and I think the misunderstanding may be due to picking apart words here and there. Both of you sound knowledgable.

....but I think as it's written, the bulb lady advice is rubbish. I have many tulip clumps that have perenialized and the varieties range from darwins to lily flowered to parrots to fringed tulips... in fact some of the nicest tulip bunches are "weeds" that I tried to move but missed and are now too pretty to pull.

In my experience, plenty of compost, nice mulch and full spring sun give the best results. The longer the tulips grow before hot weather triggers dormancy, the better show you get next year. I don't really pay much attention to keeping them summer dry since many are in my veggie garden. I think this is pretty much the same as bulborum advised, though his methods are a bit more scientific and controlled.

If I want a real nice tulip display I do manage them a bit more. They get dug up, divided, stored and replanted in the fall. Some varieties do really well, some still struggle, and I leave these varieties to the dutch (and apparently french too).

This link describes nicely how the main bulb dies and the daughter bulbs form during the growing season.

I would try and find some pictures from my own garden, but my daughter is insisting I help her with her puzzles first.

Here is a link that might be useful: tulip growth

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 12:59PM
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There are never absolutes in gardening - there are too many variables to track.

For example, here in Zone 5 I've seen gladiolus (identified as zone 8 plants) come back without being dug over winter - for at least 3 years in a row.

There are a number of reasons why that happened; however, it would be accurate for somebody to say that's not something you should rely on, or not something that would go on forever given slight variations in weather patterns each year in a certain climate.

So when it comes to tulips... yes, perennialization is possible, and yes it is difficult. A tulip population you think is going strong could be knocked down by a "bad year" due to particular weather conditions, and it may result in the next year's bulbs being too small to bloom - while it's likely another "bad year" will occur before that they are able to gain adequate size. So from the perspective of some gardeners, those tulips faded away after a few years as they "lost energy" and will not return.

But, you could have your tulips planted in a fortunate location - or intentionally given a very ideal growing environment - and have them return for decades, or multiply enough that they can get through the "bad years" and maintain blooming populations.

In truth, tulips are capable of perennializing, it is just a big challenge to create the proper conditions and may not be worth it to you or most gardeners.

I've observed a white Darwin tulip coming back year after year for at least 20 years now, at my parents house where I grew up; they were planted when I was 4 or 5 years old and a single bulb became a clump of 5-10 coming up from one spot.

Recently while visiting and doing some yard work for my parents, I dug the clump to spread the bulbs out, and found they were wedged between two massive roots of a honeylocust tree, and in soil that contained a curious amount of sand, from a sandbox that had once been nearby.

It's my guess that the tree roots kept the bulbs from working their way to the surface over the years as bulbs often do - so my guess would be yes, planting deeper is helpful. The sand apparently also helped. The growth of the tree also raised the garden 6-7 inches over the years so they were planted in a raised bed, which seems to have helped.

If I were to try to replicate those conditions, I'd mix sand with the soil, use a raised bed, plant around rocks/objects (which may maintain depth but may also concentrate natural precipitation), and take advantage shade from a tree that leafs out relatively late - so it lets sun in when spring is cool, but as the days grow longer the plants get more shaded to slow their retreat into dormancy.


It's accurate to say that tulip bulbs "die" and grow new bulbs each year. A bulb's basal plate is a modified stem, while the bulb itself is made of modified leaves evolved to wrap around each other like the layers of an onion, called "scales." In the case of tulips, that stem grows up through the bulb, through the ground, up above the ground, and terminates in the flower. That is the end of the stem. The bulb itself cannot continue - it must "branch." In any case, during blooming the bulb's energy stores are just about completely drained.

After flowering the bulb then begins new growth in the form of a new bulb (or numerous bulbs) that either originate from inside the mother bulb, inside its dying layers but outside the living ones, or possibly just outside the bulb's outer tunic altogether - but in any case attached to its base, and composed of cells from and genetically identical to the parent plant. It is asexual reproduction.

Does this progression represent the "death" of the parent plant to create new plants, or is it just a transition from one year's growth to the next? You'd have to be a philosopher to answer that question.

But it doesn't matter; the point is that tulips DON'T get to keep any stored energy any longer than 1 year; they have to to re-gather resources during the period between blooming and dying back to dormancy.

And that's why tulip perennialization is difficult in climates that are less-than-ideal for tulips; unlike larger plants that get more and more established though time by getting deeper roots, larger sizes and better energy-storing capabilities - therefore being more and more able to survive unexpected adverse conditions - tulips are never any safer than they are the first year, and therefore being in imperfect conditions can be much more detrimental. If they came back 2 years, they could come back forever - but that's a matter of chance.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 3:15AM
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Thanks pizzuti

I tried to explain it the simple way


    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 1:59PM
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I've planted about 20 varieties of tulips, and here's what I've seen: Double/peony tulips do NOT come back after the first year. Many single tulips will return one year, but not so much after that. The only ones that came back a lot were: Darwin Hybrids, Claudia/Gavotta (two colors of closely related tulips which are also good for indoor forcing), and Greigii species tulips. I haven't tried most of the other species tulips because I don't care for their looks.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 3:46PM
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Good discussion. But i guess the real test is in more hotter climate like mine where winter is extremely mild around 5C. And it is a dry winter. Now our summers are extremely hot around 110F and then monsoon in August make it all wet and humid. So do i have any chance of species tulips naturalizing?

BTW, just posted another post in BULBS forum that my tulips clusiana are not sprouting yet :(

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 8:44AM
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