What to do with tulips after they bloom

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Now that the tulip season is over, it’s time to figure out what to do with your wilting blooms. If taken care of properly, tulips can become perennials in the garden, meaning they will bloom every year.

After your tulips bloom, use pruning shears to snip off the dead flower heads. Don’t trim off the leaves just yet, as they will create the energy needed for next year’s flowers. A high-quality bulb fertilizer can also be applied after the tulips have finished blooming. Wash any stray fertilizer off the foliage and keep the tulips watered for about a month after blooming. Once the foliage dies back naturally, you can dig up and store the tulip bulbs or leave them in the garden if the soil won’t be overly wet during the summer.

Read on to learn all about caring for tulips after they bloom.

What to do with tulips after they bloom
Deadhead the flowers off, but leave the leaves!

What do I do with wilted tulip flowers?

When your tulips’ lives are coming to a wilting end, don’t rip them out! Instead, only remove the dead flowers by trimming through the stems. This process is known as deadheading.

Deadheading the tulips right after the flowers die is crucial because it prevents the plants from putting their energy into seed development. By trimming off the flower head, the plant can focus its energy on producing bulb offsets below the ground (this is how tulips multiply true-to-form).

Should you fertilize tulips right after they bloom?

Applying a high-quality natural bulb fertilizer right after blooming can help the plant thrive in its development of offsets. Offsets are baby tulip bulbs that grow around the main mother bulb in the weeks after blooming. Feeding the tulips can be especially helpful if tulip bulbs are to be lifted and stored or for perennializing tulip varieties, which naturalize an area on their own.

Caring for tulips after they are done flowering

What do I do with the leaves/foliage?

Instead of removing the foliage after you cut off the dead flower head, leave the green foliage on the plant. The leaves are used for photosynthesis.

Leaving the leaves on for 4-6 weeks after blooming lets the plant absorb sunlight and produce energy which is stored below ground in the new tulip bulbs that are growing off the main bulb that was originally planted. By leaving the foliage and stems, you’re also allowing nutrients to sink back into the bulb from the leaves themselves so they can bloom again the next season.

Should I remove dead leaves?

Allow the foliage to die back naturally, and then remove the dead leaves. The leaves should be yellow or brown before you cut them off. Leaves can be trimmed back at ground level for most tulips or can be pulled up with the bulbs if the tulip bulbs are to be stored for a few months before re-planting in the fall.

Digging up tulip bulbs

How to store tulip bulbs after the leaves die back

After 6-8 weeks have passed and/or the leaves have all died back to the ground, gently pull out the bulbs. You don’t want to dig them up too early, or they may not bloom again. Brush the bulbs until the dirt comes off, and let them dry. Then trim off any remaining foliage and store the bulbs in a well-ventilated space until it’s time for fall planting. Here is a guide describing how to store tulip bulbs.

Do you have to take tulip bulbs out of the ground?

Not at all! You can most definitely leave your tulip bulbs in the ground so long as the conditions are suitable. Tulip bulbs grow naturally in an environment with dry summers. If you intend to water and fertilize the garden bed regularly in July-August, it may be best to lift your tulips for storage. Lifting tulips also helps gardeners to separate offsets from the mother bulb and replant the baby tulip bulbs to cover a larger area.

What should I do with potted tulips after they bloom?

Potted tulips and tulips planted in a garden require similar care. You’ll want to get rid of the dead flower heads to prevent developing seeds from sucking up the bulb’s energy. After 6-8 weeks, take the bulbs out, brush them off, and store them in a well-ventilated space until fall planting time.

Which tulip varieties make better perennials?

Although many tulip varieties can become perennial if, given the proper care, there are a few tulip varieties that are better for regrowing year after year. For example, Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Parrot Tulips, Single Late Tulips, and Species Tulips are some of the best types of tulips for perennializing.

What soil is best for encouraging regrowth?

The best soil for planting tulips is fluffy (full of air and free-draining) and slightly moist. Soil that drains well is best for tulips so they don’t sit in water. You also want the soil to be porous enough to allow aeration throughout the soil. If the soil is too dense, moisture can build up, causing the bulbs to rot. The soil should also be loose enough to allow nutrients to reach the bulbs to encourage regrowth.

After spring is over and your bulbs are in the ground, you want to keep the soil relatively dry without fertilizing, so the flowers don’t bloom too early. The soil will still be slightly wet from winter so no extra water is usually needed unless you have a very dry summer season.

To ensure your tulip bulbs regrow the next season, you can also measure the acidity of the soil. Tulips grow best in slightly neutral to acidic soil. You can measure the pH with a garden soil test. If your soil is too basic or alkaline, you can add acidic mulch, peat moss, or animal manure to the soil.

Other summertime tulip tasks 

Once the dead flowers have been snipped off, the leaves have been allowed to die back naturally, and the tulip bulbs have gone into heat dormancy, there’s not much else to do until the fall. Fall is the season for planting tulip bulbs, and many of the most popular tulip bulbs for sale tend to sell out in July or August (before fall planting even begins)!

Start by making notes in the springtime of your favorite types and varieties of tulips while they are blooming in local gardens, at tulip festivals, and on social media. Take some time in the spring or early summer to put in an online order before sought-after bulbs sell out. Most shippers store them for you all summer and then mail you the bulbs at the right time for autumn planting in your local climate.

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Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a Master Gardener and founder of the gardening website Home for the Harvest. She has been featured by Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Mother Earth News, and the National Garden Bureau. Mary Jane lives with her family in the Okanagan Valley.