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Set me straight...before I again buy tulips

Good morning all. I find myself at the cusp of making a decision. I have been disappointed time and time again with my tulip plantings...they come up once and that's it. Part of the problem could be where I purchased my bulbs...I bought alot of them at Frank's. While their daffodils were, and continue to be, indestructible, the tulips make one good show.

And now, after a weekend of initial garden cleanup of my daylilies and annuals, I see the empty spots of Spring. My mind has turned to tulips again.

I planted the Early Double Magic Carpet (from Scheepers) for my sisterinlaw last Fall. The display this past Spring was nothing short of magnificent. The proof in the puddin' will be if they come back in Spring '06.

I love the look of the Early Double tulips. Can any of you sages out there give me the real skinny on tulips, especially if you've had experience with Early Double's.

A friend of mine says I should treat them as annuals...but annuals don't take as much effort to plant. Should I take the plunge, hope for the best, and just be thankful if I get one good year?

Thanks in advance.



Comments (30)

  • nicerealtor1
    16 years ago

    I see you are in Zone 7 as I am.

    Two years ago I bought 100 tulips, planted them at great effort all around my mailbox, and enjoyed them greatly the first spring.

    After the tops browned out, I pulled and dug them all up and found they had multiplied from 100 tulips to well over 300. Some were as large as when I bought them. Others were tiny. I thought I had hit the big times. I replanted them all in a much larger bed and awaited a real SHOW the next spring!

    This spring they pretty much all came up ..... and then ..... 1, count-em 1 bloomed. What a disappointment!

    They are still deep in the ground there, but I have few hopes they will bloom next year. But I'll leave them there to see what happens.

    As far as I've read, and from my personal experience, here in Hunstville, Al, in zone 7. Statistically Tulips are an annual. A lot of them are for sale around here. But I won't ever buy any more of them.

    One other thing I did with tulips last year. I bought a bunch of them marked way down at Wal*Mart way too late for normal planting. Since I had a new flower bed with Bermuda sod still in there, I set the bulbs right on top the Bermuda, covered them several inches deep with bagged topsoil (the Florida muck-stuff), and then covered it with chipped wood mulch.

    Amazingly, they came up this spring and bloomed well. I left them there in case they come up and/or bloom again next spring. Few hopes, but hope springs eternal!

    At my last home near here, there were some tulips planted by the previous owner that came up some years and bloomed. Some years they never came up at all. They were small and plain, growing up thru the grass under a tree at the north edge of the woods. So they never got the full sun that tulips apparently need. But for 17 years they grew sometimes and bloomed whenever they grew. They never multiplied nor got any larger, they just bloomed and survived. It was a pain to string-trim around them for quite a while after the grass started growing to let them recover, but I did it, hoping for better the next year.

    As you can see I'm big on hope with tulips.

    Hope that helps.

  • pitimpinai
    16 years ago

    The tulips that are longlived are species, small, but reliably return year after year. Some of the large, hybrid ones may return for several years, but they do peter out. There are a few factors that will help them along: very well drainage and on the dry side in summer and also the leaves should not be removed after the blooms have faded. The bulbs need the leaves for photosynthesis to nourish the bulbs in order to grow the following year. Also some organic fertilizer in early spring and fall won't hurt either.

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  • shrubs_n_bulbs
    16 years ago

    Some of the large, hybrid ones may return for several years, but they do peter out.

    Depends where you live. Alabama, no chance. New York, very little chance. I know people who have great success with Tulips in Colorado, Minnesota, Ontario, New Mexico, parts of England. In other parts of England the soil is wrong and they just give one year. For me, they are a reliable perennial, they increase each year, and actually do better for me than Daffodils.

  • ljrmiller
    16 years ago

    It depends on your soil and your climate. If I plant tulips in my "dryland" areas, even though the soil is clay, the tulips come back year after year, and I actually have to go in and THIN them about every three years. If I plant them in my "woodland" area, especially the fern habitat area, the ONLY tulip that comes back reliably is Tulipa sylvestris. Hybrids are Right Out.

    I use tulips, especially species tulips in the dryland areas, as perennials. I use hybrid tulips (like the doubles) as annuals, and I plant them in my HUGE containers in Fall. I don't ever pull them out--they die off without any further assistance from me after one season of bloom. I buy my "annual" tulips at big-box stores where the prices are low.

    I also perennialize some of the hybrid tulips, but I choose those varieties more carefully, and site the bulbs in the locations where I've seen my tulips come back reliably.

  • ego45
    16 years ago

    I treat them as annuals, but when i forgot to PULL them out sometimes they coming back either in form of foliage only or with some ugly looking flowers on a thin crooked stems.
    As far as i'm concerned, for as long as you could buy them at big box stores for 10-12c/ea or less, they are not worth all the coddling they required to be a perennials.
    Devote certain area for them, dig holes once and next year you'll plant the new one within a minutes.
    Also, by planting fresh one every fall you'll have a new choices every year.

    I'm talking about hybrids, of course.
    Species are reliable returners for me.

  • susanzone5 (NY)
    16 years ago

    Some darwin hybrids (red and yellow in my experience) can be perennialized by deeper planting, 9 inches deep.

    You're lucky to get flowers the first year if the rodents don't eat your bulbs! LOL.

  • calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9
    16 years ago

    I agree with those who posted that the soil is the most important. I plant 200 tulips under my roses every year. They are dug when the floiage dies back about the first of May here in zone nine California. All dug bulbs are washed and dried completely and hung in mesh bags in a cool dry place(wine cellar)until early September when they are sorted by size. All at or close to 12cm are refrigerated until early December when they are again planted. About 50% are large enough to bloom again the second year the others are discarded even though many would bloom on short stems with smaller flowers. Some varieties produce a lot of splits which accounts for most of those discarded. My tulips are never fertilized but the soil under the roses is composted when the tulips are removed and again in the fall when the summer under planting is removed. This year it is Sweet William Dianthus. Al

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    16 years ago

    Whoa - that's way too much work for me!! Time is short - I'm lucky to get them in the ground in a timely manner the first time. And I change my plantings around too frequently to really want them to perennialize anyway, so I treat 'em like annuals also.

    Al, you might be interested to know the commercial tulip growers up here tend to follow a practice very similar to yours - except for the roses :-) Much of the perennialization has been bred out of the hybrid tulips. The Darwins seem to have the best record for that feature. And soil conditions are very important - they need a fast draining and pretty dry soil in summer. The Skagit Valley doesn't exactly supply that. If you have very well-draining, even sandy soil, and a place where you won't have to irrigate much in summer, your chances of them returning is enhanced.

  • shrubs_n_bulbs
    16 years ago

    Much of the perennialization has been bred out of the hybrid tulips

    And the myth persists from people who live in the wrong climate, have the wrong soil, or are for some other reason not successful at growing tulips. Unfortunately, 80% of the US population has poor soil or climate conditions for growing tulips and weight of numbers does count for a lot on the internet :)

    The newer and fancier hybrids tend to be less vigorous plants, but they are clearly perennial since the ones that you buy have already flowered at least once and have reached a size you will probably never repeat in your garden. If darwins are tricky for you then other hybrids will be near impossible, but in the right conditions doubles and parrots will form large clumps and put on a display for decades.

    What I do find sad is that many people who treat tulips as annuals probably could grow them as perennials if they put the right preparation into the bed. But all their friends tell them its impossible, and the bulb sellers don't exactly go out of their way to educate. Sort out your drainage, sort out your acid soil, and pray for a consistently cold winter ;)

    P.S. Daffodils in my garden grow like tulips in many garden, tough old varieties barely hang on and newer ones fade away, but I don't tell everyone that daffodils can only be grown as annuals :)

  • curios
    16 years ago

    i've been planting early, multi-stemmed tulips -- monsella
    and praetens fusillier. some are planted in dry conditions,
    others have coleus overplanted, which are watered every other day. those planted with coleus have a gravel base for
    drainage. after flowering, i deadhead and water with liquid
    fertilizer. do it twice to be sure fertilizer penetrates
    soil. allow leaves to die back naturally before overplanting. seems to work.

  • gardenfanatic2003
    16 years ago

    I'm convinced they like poor soil. I have iris and tulips under a shallow rooted tree that come up reliably every year. Nothing else will grow there. I've lived in my house for 9 years and those tulips have come up every year. I have no idea what kind they are.


  • susanlynne48
    16 years ago

    Two that I have found to be successful in my zone 7a, are gregii and viridiflora. They come back every year. The gregii has great foliage, too - green with maroon stripes. These are planted in an area of my yard that has very poor soil, too. But, I always put down some bulb food in early spring and after bloom. My soil is mostly clay.


  • valzone5
    16 years ago

    My mother in law had a very neglected yard and one spring I took it on - raking and digging and cleaning it all up. I was surprised to come upon a little bed with at least 50 tulips ready to bloom...never knew they were even there - so much junk and weeds. She said they were planted about 10 years past. After they bloomed and browned, I dug them up and multiplied the next year's show by 5. The following year I bought this house and I dug some of her tulips bulbs up and planted them here in a bed that I had prepared beautifully...lots of organic matter etc. They bloomed so-so the first year and not since. I guess they prefered being ignored....or not disturbed....not sure.


  • cynthianovak
    16 years ago

    Hi All

    Have to add my experiment. I have rich soil for about 8 inches then red clay. Daff planted in that actually on the clay return beautifully even though they are in a bed with coleus and cannas in the summer....go figure

    I tried a tulip experiment with Princess Irene, small early bloomer said to return to zone 8. It was on the edge of a rose bed that area is quite dry.

    I allowed PI to naturally drown then left the tulips in ground undisturbed. At least 1/2 came up the following spring....not a one bloomed.

    I also tried planting some tulips bought at end of year clearance. only about 25% bloomed and all were about half the size they were supposed to be. I love them enough to keep them as annuals. They aren't that much trouble to me, zone 8a the ground never freezes so I only plant them about 1 inch below the surface, easy to pull up and compost.

    Compare the price of a Darwin Hybrid: about 35 cents to a pansy at 85 cents to a dollar. What a bargain! I love the whole growth cycle from the time it breaks the ground until the flower finally falls apart. What at deat for 35 cents!



  • Cybersunday
    16 years ago

    The showy hybrids have to be treated as annuals - I replant them every year. You may get the occasional bloom the year after but it is not wort the trouble. Most of the daffodils wil naturalize. I live in a city where we have a tulip festival every year and every flower bed is being replanted every fall simply for that reason. I buy mine at Costco, paid $8.99 for a bag of tulips, bought 4 of them and it is a small price to pay for the spectacular display in spring. Other bulbs come back year after year, e.g. scillas, muscaris - those are usualy the smaller plants. Species tulips like Turkestancia, Kaufmania come back in bloom as well but they are not nearly as showy. Couple of years ago, I tried another advice, dug them all up and potted them, let the foilage die, sprinkled them with bone meal and replanted them in fall. It just was not worth the trouble.

  • LAA668984
    16 years ago

    I am trying tulips again after many years of not having them. They always came up, but the deer would nip off the flower bud before it bloomed. I've reaqd that the small, species tulips are perennial. Also the darwin hybrids (not to be confused with darwins, darwin hybrids are a separate type)I've had a few darwin hybrids (red ones) that the deer never bothered and they have come up for at least 15 yrs. I know tulips need a cold period, so the southern states probably wouldn't have too much luck. Unless you dug them up each year and refrigerated them for a good 4 months. Way too much work for me, but in NY we certainly get enough cool temps to leave them in the ground. I dig the soil deeply and add lots of bone meal and manure when planting. I am trying to interplant them with daffodils, in the hope that the daffodils will deter the deer. I think that's why my red ones are still blooming, they are in a bed of daffodils. You could always force a few pots of them, if you don't have luck planting them in the ground.

  • sharpshin
    16 years ago

    after several years of experimenting (with in excess of 200 tulip bulbs annually) i can say that in my zone 6B yard (central NJ) the only large-flowered tulips that are reliably perennial (in the short term) are the early blooming Emperor tulips.

    these are quite beautiful and excelllent for cutting. and even so, i expect three years of good blossoming until they tank and need to be replaced.

    all others -- darwins, early flowering, early doubles, single lates, parrots, triumphs, scheepers sports, lefeber hybrids -- should be treated as annuals.

    that said, i believe i have the secret ingredient for stopping critter predation on the bulbs over the winter. get yourself some crushed oyster shell (pet stores catering to birds or feed stores catering to poultry will have it for $7 or less the 40 lb. bag.)

    layer your trenches with the shell (shell, bulbs, dirt, shell, dirt, shell, ending with a liberal dusting of shell on top. it is very sharp and discourages digging -- plus, it probably helps sweeten the soil over time. try it, you'll like it. as for critters that move in and eat the buds or flowers, the only cure is a fence.

  • leslie197
    16 years ago

    After many years trying (and quitting) and trying again to grow tuliips I now grow most of my tulips strictly as annuals. This actually helps, I pick a new color scheme each year and can even plant in shade and have a nice show. In 2001 I purchased 2 dozen red and yellow tulips from Whiteflower Farm that they called perennial & planted them in my "dry bed", a small timber-sided raised bed which is the only place I can plant anything that can't take winter wet. Soil is thin and gravel-mulched. This spring I had 29 blossoms. I overplant them with portulaca after the show and consider 3 years return a major victory in my yard & climate with my wet clay. Unfortunately I have no other possible place to plant anymore of these tulips, but some of you with a special spot might like to try them. I believe they were fairly expensive, but with 3 return years with heavy bloom they more than paid for themselves. Leslie

  • outinthegardenallday
    Original Author
    16 years ago

    Thanks everyone - as always your insight and comments were greatly appreciated. Last night I finally put in my order with Scheepers, 100 double early tulips, 50 tomato red Abba and 50 yellow Monte Carlo. I will plant them as annuals and that's that. No more more dashed hopes...if I want return power I shall forever more look to my crocus, snowdrops, hyacinthiodes, daffodils and lily plantings.

    Ciao, OITGAD

  • Brooklynrose
    16 years ago

    Since you've taken the plunge and bought more tulips, I'd suggest that you give them one more chance to be perrenials. I live in Brooklyn, so I get pretty much the same weather you do, and have had good luck so far with tulips coming back. Darwin, triumph, and single late have all done well and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my double lates from last year will return. I even have several varieties that were planted before I moved in 3 years ago that still bloom every spring. I've bought from McClure & Zimmerman--not sure if that makes a difference or not. Good luck!


  • giraffe
    16 years ago

    Aside from some of the species, I've had good luck with the tulips in the "Impression series."

    I read a year or so back that buying the largest/Jumbo tulip bulbs, when offered, would help guarantee good returns, given the correct soil, care and conditions.

    Most of the Big box stores have been offering the jumbo tulip bulbs the past few years, and I've noticed that the "Impression" series are among the few jumbos offered.

    (Some bulbs appear larger even than those offered by the good mail order houses like Sheepers and Van Engelen.)

    It might be worth buying a bag or two and seeing what your results are in your area.

    Last year I planted a bed in my new home with emperors and the pink impressions, bought in the jumbo size & planted VERY deep....8-9 inches.

    The resulting display was gorgeous....the plants were the largest healthiest tulips I've EVER had, & they weathered well......for almost 3 weeks. I still hear people comment on how much they enjoyed them.

    We'll see if they'll all return this year, but my guess is that they'll do well. The neighborhood I'm in has many gardens with old patches of tulips that seem to return with little or no care, likely due to the black sandy loam that tulips these will likely have a good shot at blooming for at least a few years.

    I say check out the Impressions.....anyone else have good results with them?

    Good luck !

  • cnid
    16 years ago

    I wanted perennial bulbs. I got into mini/botanica/species tulips (clusianna, dasystemon, pulchella, saxatilis, etc.). They're short but they multipy and are just great fun. So unique. Nice colours, decent variety, range of bloom times. But can't be planted in among bigger plants - they need to be at the front, so they don't get shaded out while they re-energize.

    For medium height, the Kaufmanniana are excellent perennials. Nice colours, decent variety, and they muliply and form lovely clumps, much like daffodils. Very early. Foliage is often striped with purple on green.

    I really love the Greigi's - they come back reliably and most have multiplied. Smaller flower than the hybrids but nice and tall, long-lasting, mine are early, lots of colours to choose from.

    Fosteriana (the Emperor series)(did I spell 'emperor' right?) are great too. They have lasted 6 years for me, altho were weaker this spring after 2 extra harsh winters and poor conditions last summer. Some have even multiplied but not a lot. Huge flowers and very tall. Gorgeous colours.

    Lily-flowered tulips are coming back reliably for me for the first 3 years I have had them now. I love them.

    Darwins don't do bad for me here in terms of coming back. The rest are usually 'annuals' but at $10 for 50, I can afford that. It is just hard planting more bulbs into beds that are already full of perennials etc.

    I got some giants - Blushing Beauty was the first and I can't wait to see if it comes back at all. It was HUGE!

    The only things I do that are 'fussy' is plant them deep, plant them with bone meal, and spray the emerging shoots with Ropel so the squirrels don't bother them.

    Don't give up!! They're too wonderful in the spring to give up.

  • tyshee
    16 years ago

    The old fashioned red Darwins have come up in my yard for over thirty years. The newer varieties have returned for four years. You have two choices. You can dig them up each spring and store in the refrigerator and replant every fall or you can give them bone meal or bulb food each year in the garden. In warmer climates you must dig them up. In colder climates we leave them and dig them up to divide them. The fancy ones require good drainage and to to be watered even when they are hidden. They easily rot. Several years ago my daughter bought two large bags of fancy tulips and forgot to give them to me. She left them in the house and gave them to me in the spring. I planted them in the greenhouse. Let them come up and then die back (no bloms). Took up the bulbs and stored them in the refrigerator and planted them with bulb food in the fall. They came up and bloomed. I feed them and add compost as well as mulch and they are back every year along with many I rescued from my daughter's house (left by a previous owner) when she sold the house. They were small blooms but when I planted them with food in good soil they came up with huge blooms. All my tulips except the old reds are rescues and I have so many I gave them away this year. The small bulbs you remove can be replanted with food and in a few years you have more blooming tulips. They are not annuals they just need yearly care. Treat them like a prized possession and feed them. If you plant them amongst your roses they do well as they are fed well when you feed the roses. Also never never cut back the foliage. Another problem is moose and deer who eat the buds so if you have deer that may be where your blooms go. I cover mine with chicken wire until the blossoms open. Again if you live in a warm climate you must harvest them after the foliage dies or dig them up foliage and all like you would a glad and let them die back before storing in the refrigerator. FEED THEM AT PLANTING AND YEARLY EVEN IF LEFT IN THE GROUND.

  • led_zep_rules
    16 years ago

    When I bought a gazillion bulbs 15 years ago I went mostly for daffodils but got some Kaufmanniana and Greigi tulips as well as some Darwin hybrids. The Darwin hybrids were gorgeous the first year but only a few blooms the next, and then none. The species types did really well and even multiplied some, plus I liked that much of the foliage has mottled purple spots/stripes. I would only buy that kind in the future, the shorter but reliable species ones.

    I have to ask why you bought yellow tulips - I always wonder why people plant white and yellow tulips. If you are happy with white and yellow, for heaven's sake plant daffodils! Reliable and multiply well. I only buy red and similar intense colors of tulips.

    Should also add I bought my mom's house and her parrot tulips in scarlet/white and red/yellow bloom every year, and I am sure she planted them more than 20 years ago. Also get a few tall tulips here and there, don't know what kind they are, but old ones.

    I would never buy tulips if daffodils came in red and purple!


  • shrubs_n_bulbs
    16 years ago

    Marcia, tulips actually grow better than daffs in my garden :) Except that they can get massacred by tulip fire and I don't think anything ever bothers daffodils ...

  • irish_rose_grower
    16 years ago

    I love tulips and 2 years ago I planted about 200 of them. And the following year, about 20 % came back, with only 10% blooming. I dug so many holes to plant them that I had blisters on my hands (with thick work gloves). They definitely are not perennial for me -- but the spectacular show is amazing. I think I'm going to costco right now for tulips bulbs. (by the way, costco in melville has awesome tulips and daffodil bulbs).

    I have always gotten huge healthy bulbs from Costco. I wonder if Scheepers has better quality??


  • Carole Westgaard
    16 years ago

    Outinthegardenallday: 'Giraffe' is correct about the 'Impression' series -- planted 100 last year (Apricot Impression and Design Impression -- bought from John Scheepers on line) and what a show. Just planted 200 more today. They came up year two (this Spring) so figured it is worth it to add more. They are planted at 8" (I'm in NE Illinois - Chicago area) and I know that just under that depth is nothing but gravel, so it must drain well. A suggestion re overplanting, interplanting: Dwarf Plumbago! I have planted the perennial type around and through the tulip bed -- but it emerges late so I also buy a few of the annual dwarf pumbago because I cannot wait to hide the tulip foliage. Then when the perennial shows up, it's really lush. One more thing: I plant the Impressions, many parrots, and doubles in a commune - at least 20 to 25 in a hole about 18" wide (oval shape), very snug, about two inches apart at most, and they are fabulous for repeating every Spring. Hope this helps. It's really worth the effort when you are so anxious for Spring and flowers.

  • PacNWest
    16 years ago

    I have always had such great luck with tulips and daffodils, never even thought about it until reading all of your posts. They are a no maintenance flower for me, always come back, it must be our weather and my rocky soil. I just bought a bunch more on sale, hope it's nice enough this weekend to get them in the ground, it has been raining alot and now is dark before I get off of work. They were on clearence, 10 for $1.00, so I couldn't resist.

  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    16 years ago

    I planted tulips last year after years of not allowing myself to be tempted. I planted Greigii and Kaufmannia types in a dry area that has lots of tree roots. They were such a knockout I'm glad to hear that they may return.

    After planting those I bought a gazillion more on sale at the hardware store. I guess my resistance had been broken down! Many were Impression types. I knew nothing about them, just bought by the picture. The display was phenomenal but I don't think I would repeat all the effort. I have carpal tunnel and paid a price of pain for days. My husband planted a lot of them but I kept bringing home more.

    These went into a new perennial bed, so probably got overly-moist conditions during the summer after blooming. I will not be able to plant bulbs there again, since now that garden is fully planted with perennials. (Every time my husband planted a perennial this summer and ran into bulbs he was grumbling. He was keeping a tally of split tulip bulbs! He was shocked when I told him they probably wouldn't come back anyway. He comes from the middle east, where tulips grow wild on the mountaintops. He really loved the tulips!)

    All the Impressions were, really, well, impressive! If they do come back I will look for more. Though where I could put them now is a question.

  • pitimpinai
    16 years ago

    "I have to ask why you bought yellow tulips - I always wonder why people plant white and yellow tulips. If you are happy with white and yellow, for heaven's sake plant daffodils!"

    LOL. You are right about that, Marcia. :-) Then again, the reason I planted Tulip "Monte Carlo" was that its fragrance is lovely. This year I planted Tulip 'West Point' because I would like to see if it will bloom at the same time as my Alliums. Usually by then, most of my spring flowering bulbs are gone.