Tulip After Care

What do you do with the tulip after the flowers fade? Learn how to deadhead, plant, and fertilize for years of growth.

By: Debbie Neese
April 1, 2022
Tulip After Care
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Imagine yourself arriving at a Dutch grower's immense fields filled with tulips. You tip-toe through the colorful patches and glimpse the windmill revolving in the breeze high above you. You, of course, take a few pots of colorful representations of the day, hop on your bike and meander through the backstreets of Amsterdam, all while listening to the birds sing and wave at the people you pass as they smile at your bounty of tulips. You get back to your little piece of real estate, set them on your back patio table, and enjoy the color they provide. They symbolize so much of the new beginnings in store. Folklore says they symbolize love depending on the flower color you choose. Some colors convey an apology, and others signify royalty, cheer, and happiness. 

Fast forward several weeks, and your pretty little floral bouquets have passed their prime and are now looking sadly at you. Do you toss them or set the symbolism in motion for next year's new birth? We'll teach you how to do the latter! 

Tulip After Care

Pruning the Tulip Foliage

Once your flower has faded, clip it back to the first set of leaves and prune the bloom stalk but leave the foliage. Why leave the foliage on your tulip? Because the bulb is still growing and working underneath the ground! The greenery absorbs the sunlight, which photosynthesizes and turns to energy! This direct sunlight, in turn, feeds the bulb for next year's spring show! 

After several weeks, the foliage will begin to yellow and flop over. At that point, it is safe to prune back the browning foliage and toss it in the compost pile. As the foliage yellows, the bulbs go dormant as the heat of the soil increases. The energy is held in the bulb for the following years' growth. 

Planting Tulip Beds

When planting your leftover bulbs in the garden, only dig the same depth as the grower pot and twice as wide. Measure out a tablespoon of Bulb-tone in the hole and mix soil amendments with the native soil to ensure good drainage. You may want to lay a thin layer of compost over your holes and then mulch. Water well and wait until the following spring for a repeat performance! 

If you've removed the soil from around the bulb, measure your bulb's length and dig down three times the size of your bulb (which is usually 6-8 inches deep). You can dig with a garden auger or bulb planter if planting several. Supplement the soil with compost for good drainage. Place the pointed tip upwards. Cover with the soil mixture and water well. Then, mulch a two-inch layer over the planted bulb to discourage weeds. Tulip bulbs can be grown in one hole six inches apart with an odd number of bulbs for an attractive look.

Fertilizing Tulips for Spring Blooms

You can fertilize after blooming with a granular organic fertilizer in late spring or wait until the following spring when the foliage begins to pop out of the ground to provide them an added boost of food. 

To fertilize, remove the mulch away from the foliage, scratch the soil's surface and sprinkle around the base of the foliage. Then spread the earth or a thin layer of compost on top and put the mulch back in place. Water in well, and the fertilizer will do the rest. 

Watering your Tulips

In the early spring, rain showers usually give your plants enough water, but if not, you may want to turn on your irrigation system during long periods of drought. Tulips need the water to activate their spring growth but ensure they're in well-draining soil, so the bulbs aren't sitting in water. Too soggy soil for too long will cause rot or fungus, so be aware and keep their soil moist but not wet as they begin to grow.

If you're growing them in pots, you need to give them a drink to wake them up since rainwater may not fall directly or enough into the container. Use your garden shower nozzle and water thoroughly, and allow the water to dispel out of the bottom drainage hole. Set them in a place where they will get full sun (6-8 hours) and watch the show begin! You'll also want to fertilize your pots when the first sign of foliage pops up. 

Winter Protection in Pots

You'll have to compensate for the zone you're planting in because pots don't give the roots the thermal insulation that the ground does. For instance, if you're in Zone 7, you'll need a bulb that can tolerate a Zone 5 winter. If planting in pots, always get plants that can survive two zones lower than your existing zone for the roots to thrive in colder areas. 

In low planting zones, something to remember is to not water when the soil is frozen. Also, if there is a lot of moisture, don't let your pot sit long where it can get too much moisture and rot the bulbs. That's the beauty of pots; when in doubt, move them around! 

Chilling Your Tulips

If you're in a warmer zone (8,9,10+) where the chilling time is inadequate, you'll wrap your bulbs up and refrigerate them at 40°F for 8-12 weeks. If you don't take this step for chilling, your bulbs will not bloom or be very short. While chilling, do not have ripening fruit in the frig that will give off ethylene gas. So it's best to keep a spare refrigerator where no food is stored. 

Bragging Rights

Now, all you need is a windmill and some wooden shoes, and you can act like a Dutch person growing their crop of tulips! So please take pictures and show us your crop of loveliness! We'd love to celebrate with you! If you haven't ever tried a tulip, why not today!