Three Rules You Need To Understand For Great Tulip Care

Tulip care is a simple thing

Tulip care is (luckily for us) a fairly simple thing. This plant really isn’t bothered by any serious insect pests so we can pretty much forget about that. So what is it that you have to do to ensure you have great tulips from year to year?

Rule of Leaves

Grow the leaves, not the flowers. If you concentrate on making sure your gardening grows great leaves on your tulips, then those leaves will produce superior flowers year after year.

You do that by not cutting the leaves down, tying them up, or doing anything else to them until they turn yellow. Yellow leaves on your tulips are a sign that the bulbs have stored enough energy and are now ready to go dormant until next spring.

If you cut the leaves off before they go yellow, the bulbs will not get enough energy to produce a large flower. They may get enough energy to survive a winter and produce a smaller flower. And every time you cut the leaves off too early, you weaken the bulb so it either doesn’t produce flowers or it simply dies.

Allow the leaves to go yellow before cutting them back.

The Simple Tulip Care Rule For Watering Tulips


Watering bulb gardens in the summer is a major cause of tulip death. You think you’re doing a good job of tulip care because everything needs water. Right? Wrong!

Tulips are genetically designed to grow on high mountain slopes where there is adequate spring water but absolutely no water during the summer months. They go dormant to preserve water inside the bulb and get ready for the following spring. When you water them, they rot.

So folks who plant annuals over top of bulbs and then water to keep the annuals flowering can expect this damp soil to rot out their tulips.

This is why many gardeners have a short-lived tulip bulb show. Too much water.

Rule of Feeding

Tulips don’t require yearly fertilizing. There isn’t too much plant food available up in the mountains on steep slopes and bulbs have developed so they do not require a lot of plant food.A feeding of compost over top of the bulbs in the spring and/or fall is all the average bulb requires. Some folks like to feed their bulbs bone meal thinking the phosphorus is good for bulbs and roots.

Given that phosphorus is relatively insoluble and relatively immobile in the soil, putting bone meal on the soil surface means it not only doesn’t break down but what does break down stays on the surface. Tulip roots are a good 8 inches below the surface so the fertilizer doesn’t get there.

Applying bone meal to the surface of the garden makes the gardener feel better (and the garden center that sold the product) but doesn’t really help the bulb. It’s a good feeling though.

And no. Do not put fertilizer down the planting hole. This only burns the roots and is a typical beginner gardening mistake. Trust me on this one, a feeding on the soil of compost in the spring is all the tulip care you need to do.

So that’s the deal. It may not have been what your average garden center wants to sell you but treating your bulbs with casual respect (allow the leaves to grow) and benign neglect (don’t water) will give you big healthy flowers for as long as possible.

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Additional Information Readers Ask

  • The average hybrid tulip may flower well for 4–5 years if not watered at all.
  • Finally, I’m sorry to say once a tulip stops blooming, it’s almost impossible in our garden settings to get it to rebloom again. (dig and toss it).

Check out the other garden solutions on my Amazon ebook list here.

Moving Flower Bulbs: When To Do It and When It’s Best Not To

I get asked all the time about moving flower bulbs so here are the general rules of thumb.

Photo by Amber Maxwell Boydell on Unsplash

If The Bulb Is In A Pot

If the bulb is fully grown, in soil, in the pot, then it can be moved at any time. Take it out of the pot and plant it at the same depth as it was in the pot – in other words, the soil in the pot should be at ground level.

Do not do this if there is a danger of frost and your bulb has been greenhouse grown.  It will be “burned” by the frost.  Wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting outdoors.

While growing it in the pot, give it full sunshine, feed at least once a week with a houseplant fertilizer and water whenever your finger comes away dry if you touch the soil.

Moving Bulbs In Your Garden

If the bulb is in the garden and you have an insane desire to move it (maybe you’re moving and want to take a few hundred tulips along for the ride) then the rules are slightly different.

(By the way, if you’re selling your house, you should check on your legal sales agreement before moving flowers, sometimes you can’t. If selling it is always a good idea to have it written into the agreement that you can move plants.)

Can You Move A Bulb If It’s In Bloom?

This is not a good idea – sorry to say. The flower will start to fade with the shock. And it will be a very sorry sight – very quickly.

Moving Spring Blooming Bulbs

You can move spring-blooming flower bulbs immediately after they bloom if you do it:

  1. carefully and
  2. replant them as soon as possible at the same depth as they were in the original planting spot.

They won’t like it but if you replant at the same depth, they will likely survive. They may sulk for a year (not throw a flower the following spring) but will then recover for subsequent years.

Moving spring bulbs before they bloom is a tricky operation because the bulbs are actively growing buds at this time and they’re usually quicker off the mark than you are.

You can do it but expect to lose more bulbs along with the flowers.

I have moved just about every plant in my garden out of season at one time or other and if you do it carefully, without disturbing the roots too much you can try. Just understand that you may lose spring bulbs this way.

Photo by Amber Maxwell Boydell on Unsplash

It’s a Waste of Time to Transplant Tulips

Let me inject a note of honesty here about moving tulips.

In general, it’s a waste of time to move a tulip   This bulb generally is a short-blooming bulb – 2-3 years in most gardens – so moving it shocks it and you won’t get many flowers from them.  Not worth the labor in my opinion.

And once a tulip stops blooming, it will not come back.

Moving Summer Flowering Bulbs

Moving flower bulbs like summer flowering lilies (or other summer flowering bulbs) follows the same guidelines. Dig them early enough in the spring. Again, they’re not pleased by this but they’ll survive and you’ll rarely lose a season’s bloom if you get them early.

If actively growing above the ground, it is best to wait until after they finish flowering and the leaves start to fade.

They can be easily moved in the fall when they are dormant.

There are more flower bulb posts here

Another Factor Not Many Folks Who Love Flower Bulbs Consider

The cost of bulbs is relatively low for the flowers they produce. In the course of moving, you have enough to do and worry about. And moving a few flower bulbs just wouldn’t be high on my list given the number of other things I’d need to do.

The cost to replace them with bulbs in your new garden is low.

And with a new garden, you get to experiment with new bulbs and flower opportunities.

You can get many of your flower bulbs questions answered here.