Tulips are a popular choice for early spring gardens. These bright bulbs come in a wide variety of colors and styles and grow well throughout the United States and Europe. They only bloom once per plant, however, and many gardeners are left wondering what to do with the bulbs after the plants are finished blooming.
Although tulips do have seeds, most are started from bulbs, which are a specialized form of thickened leaf that the young plant uses as a source of nutrition. This built-in nutrition is why tulips can grow and flourish during the cool weather of early spring. Most gardeners plant their tulips in the late fall as they grow best if they have had hibernation time in the cold ground. In fact, an old gardener's tip is to plant your tulip bulbs the day after Thanksgiving.
Tulips are generally a tall, straight plant, with several blade-shaped leaves surrounding a taller, straight flower stalk. The blooms themselves are cup-shaped and have one or more layers of petals surrounding the center opening. Tulips are available in almost any color a gardener can want, with varieties that literally range from white to black, and can also be found in bicolored and varicolored varieties.
Tulips grow best in sunny areas but can tolerate some shade. Bulbs should be planted at the depth recommended on the packaging, usually about 6 inches, and spaced a few inches apart, although tulips will grow and flower for a first season when planted in tightly packed groups.
Tulips are perennials: the bulbs will grow and flower year after year. Some tulips will naturalize or propagate and spread on their own throughout your yard. They can also be planted in pots and containers and do well indoors.
After the Flowers Die
After the blooms on your tulip plants have faded and begun to drop their petals, you may want to save the bulb for future planting. To ensure that the bulb remains healthy, trim off the remaining flower head to reduce the amount of energy the plant is putting into the flowering and seed-producing process. If your tulip plant is in a pot, continue to water it until the foliage begins to die, then allow the leaves to die off and carefully remove the bulb from the soil. Rinse carefully to remove any remaining soil and possible contaminants and pat dry. Store dormant bulbs in a cool, dry place--some gardeners use the crisper drawer in their refrigerator for this purpose--and plant again in the fall. Follow the same process for outdoor bulbs, especially if you notice that your tulips have propagated and are coming up in crowded clumps.
Stephannie Hibbard is a High School and College English teacher and freelance writer. She has a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in English and a Master of Arts in Teaching. She has been involved in a number of published articles, websites, and studies and has served professionally as a copy editor for a local newspaper.