How To Make Your Tulips Rebloom
Today we have a question from Leigh Ann:
“My husband gave me a pot of tulips for Mother’s Day, “ she wrote,” how can I save the bulbs to plant next fall? “
Over my years at the Times, most questioners just wanted to know how to get the damn things to come back in the garden, but as the answers are similar and Leigh Ann was first this spring, potted tulips will be addressed in
How to Make Your Tulips Rebloom
First thing is to call me out on that verb. You can’t make them rebloom; you can only encourage them and hope they take the hint.
Next and even more important, plant in a spot that reminds you of the mountains of central Asia, rocky places with poor soils, cold winters and dry summers. That’s where most tulips come from and they still do best when they think they’re at home.
In my experience it’s mostly the environment – and of course the will of the gods – that supports rebloom, but some tulips are more likely to come back than others, so if you want to up the odds it doesn’t hurt to see if you can love some of the most faithful types (see below).
1. Plant tulips deeply (2.5 to 3 times the diameter of the bulb) in full sun where soil drains well all year round. So far so good for Leigh Ann, commercial potting mix is usually pretty light.
2. When leaves are up a couple of inches, fertilize with liquid fertilizer at half strength. If, like LA, you’re too late to do that, feed as soon as possible unless the leaves have started to die, in which case it’s just plain too late..
3. Snip off the flowerhead as soon as you can bear to. This would be a good reason to make bouquets except the more leaves you leave behind the better. Think about making short bouquets.
4. Allow the leaves and stems to die naturally in place; don’t cut them off until there isn’t a trace of green.
5. Once they start to decline, hope it doesn’t rain, from here on dry soil is best.
6. After about 6 weeks, the bulbs will be in resting mode and even more defenseless against wet. Do not irrigate the bed they’re in or the adjacent lawn. This is the point where LA takes hers out of the pot and stores them cool and dry until fall, when she can start at 1
or not. A pot doesn’t give the plants much in the way of nurturing root room and transplanting the growing plants makes them cross, so saving potted tulips seldom results in flowers. Worth a try, though, for bulbs that have sentimental value. It might take 2 or 3 years but if you have the right conditions…
7. It helps to have deer. All my Maine tulips are at least 5 years old because – if I’m remembering right – that’s when I stopped planting new ones. More often than not I would come up in early spring and they’d look great and then the next trip they’d just be healthy bunches of leaves with green sticks in the middle. This radical pruning strengthens the bulbs, so in deer free years like this one the flowers are a sort of extra gift.
Tulips That Are Most Likely To Come Back, all other thing equal.
* Species tulips, small but mighty. Best viewed in rock gardens which are also the best place to grow them.
* Kaufmannia and Greigii, squatty but reliable. I have tried and tried to like these obliging early bloomers, but the proportions … well, I just can’t do it. If it doesn’t bother you, both of these are great choices.
* Darwin hybrids, standard looking tulips in a wide assortment of colors.
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