What Happened to My Tulips?
“Last year my tulips were just beautiful and had countless blooms…this year I can count how many I have on both hands. What happened?”
I have heard countless comments similar to the one above from fellow gardeners. And rightly so! Everyone knows tulips are supposed to be one of the easiest plants to grow and you can just put them in the ground and enjoy their blooms for many springs to come, right?? Or perhaps not…
Many people, when asking about the lack of flowers they are experiencing from their tulips, wonder if they are doing something wrong: did they not plant them deep enough? Are the bulbs overcrowded? Was the foliage removed too early from the year before? Unfortunately, the lack of blooms in the second, third, and fourth years are often a result of nothing the gardener could’ve prevented.
If tulips are planted during the fall in proper conditions (receiving adequate amounts of water and sunlight and a long enough chilling period during the winter), they will most likely sprout, grow, and bloom in a vibrant display the following spring. Whether or not they return with as much vigor and brilliance in following years has more to do with the variety of tulip than the planting technique. Botanical (or species) tulips along with their hybridized cousins (specifically Darwin Hybrids) are the most reliable tulips for perennializing (returning year after year). These tulip bulbs perform wonderfully in the spring and in most cases, even naturalize (produce more bulbs causing them to spread).
You may now be wondering about the advice you’ve heard that recommends lifting your tulip bulbs and replanting them to encourage more blooms. While this can sometimes help to achieve the desired effect if the problem is indeed overcrowding, it is not a reliable solution and is, in my opinion, a lot of work for something that will only yield humdrum results. Therefore, save yourself some trouble and plant varieties of tulips that are known for perennializing. If you want to grow some of the other types, go right ahead! Just don’t be surprised if you end up replacing them every couple of years.