Tulips are bulb flowers that brighten spring gardens with a rainbow of pastel to bold hues.
Some, like non-hybridized botanical species and Darwin and Emperor hybrids, come up faithfully year after year.
Other cultivated varieties perform better as annuals because they are bred to make a grand showing the first year and don’t always return with equal vigor.
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Suited to USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 7, tulips thrive in full sun with average, well-draining soil.
In these Zones, bulbs enter dormancy at season’s end and bloom again the following spring, unless they succumb to the following:
- Foraging rodents
- Frost heaving
During the winter months, when food is scarce, burrowing rodents may feed on bulbs, entirely consuming them or leaving them irreparably damaged.
And although bulbs can withstand winter’s chill, when the ground freezes and thaws, they can heave up out of the earth and die from exposure to cold, moisture, and wind.
In addition, bulbs may rot from pooling snowmelt, and poorly drained moisture in the summer garden.
Avoiding these perils is one way to give your tulips a head start on a beautiful encore performance.
In our guides to selecting, growing, and caring for tulips, you’ll find all you need to know to cultivate these iconic spring flowers in your outdoor living space.
This article discusses the process of lifting, curing, and storing bulbs to avoid the potential pitfalls of off-season time underground. It is an optional aspect of tulip maintenance.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What You’ll Learn
Let’s get ready to lift!
Deadheading Spent Blooms
When flowers finish blooming, begin to fade, and drop petals, it’s time to deadhead or remove entire blossom-bearing stems.
Use clean pruners to sever the stems near their points of origin without damaging the surrounding foliage. Angle the cuts downwards to facilitate water runoff.
By removing these finished stems, you prevent the setting of seed pods and redirect energy back to the bulbs where it is stored for next year’s flowers.
When to Lift
Post-bloom, the leaves remain lush and green. Please resist the temptation to cut them down and tidy up the garden.
The foliage is necessary for photosynthesis and contributes to the stored energy needed for a repeat bloom next spring.
When summer begins to heat up, the leaves turn yellow and then brown. Once there’s no more green, it’s time to lift or dig up the bulbs.
Use a pointed-tip garden shovel to dig down eight to 10 inches around individual bulbs or clumps.
Work your way around and beneath them before gently unearthing them. Do your best to avoid tearing the protective papery sheaths.
Once lifted, discard blemished, brittle, discolored, malodorous, or soft ones. Use clean pruning shears to remove the remaining foliage and roots, and brush off the excess soil.
If you have conjoined bulbs, you can divide them at this time. The next step is curing.
How to Cure
Once lifted, pruned, brushed clean, and divided as desired, it’s time to let the bulbs cure, a simple process of spreading them out in a single layer to dry completely before storage.
You can use ventilated plastic bins or boxes lined with newspaper to absorb excess moisture. Place the containers in a well-ventilated, dry location away from direct sunlight.
Over the next two to three days, excess moisture will evaporate. If the weather is exceptionally wet, allow extra time to dry before storing.
Once dry, store the bulbs in mesh produce bags. Insert bits of newspaper between them to prevent touching and inhibit moisture buildup.
Tag the bags to identify the contents and suspend them from hooks in a cool cellar, garage, or shed with dim light and low humidity.
The temperature should dip to 40 to 50°F for at least 12 weeks to mimic winter’s chill and induce spring blossoming.
You may read about storing bulbs in the refrigerator, but the ever-present moisture and ethylene gasses produced by some fruits and vegetables make this a poor choice likely to result in rotting.
Pampered and Peril-Free
With the odds stacked against a vigorous comeback, many gardeners lift bulbs at season’s end to store them out of the ground for the off-season.
Non-hybridized botanical species, and hybrids like Darwin and Emperor, are the most likely to return for a stellar encore display. However, due to rodent foraging, frost heaving, and oversaturation risks, even the most robust varieties are not immune to off-season perils.
It’s time to take out your garden planner and note the following:
Deadhead blooms as needed in the spring.
Monitor the foliage in early summer and lift when the leaves are no longer green.
Cure and store in a cool, dark, dry location with at least 12 weeks of 40 to 50ºF temperatures.
And finally, as winter turns to spring, replant as soon as the thawed ground permits.
Pamper your tulips with lifting, curing, and storing to avoid the pitfalls of off-season time underground, and enjoy their iconic blooms every spring.
Do you dig your tulips up or leave them in the ground? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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