Wondering how to store tulip bulbs? We're here to help. If you're looking to get the very most from your bulbs, it's well worth doing.
Tulips are a stalwart of spring with their satin-like petals and glorious spectrum of shades. But, they can be a little fussier than others. While crocuses, daffodils, and all the woodland bulbs (think anemones, snowdrops, and bluebells) can happily stay in the ground all year round, tulips generally won't respond so well to this low-maintenance approach. If they do flower again (and some simply won't), the show will be much less spectacular than the first.
You can buy fresh tulip bulbs each year – sure – but if you're planting bulbs all over your garden, then prices can quickly stack up. A cheaper alternative is to lift them out of the soil once they've finished blooming for storage, then replant the following autumn. This extra effort will reward you with a much better display than leaving them in the ground and it will keep costs down. So, why not give it a go this year? We've got all the tips on how to store tulip bulbs below.
How to store tulip bulbs in 5 simple steps
Learning how to plant tulips is easy. Learning how to save tulip bulbs by storing them is even more so. All it takes is a few simple steps to prepare for a stunning springtime display.
- Deadhead your tulips once the flowers have gone over (unless they are 'species' types, which should be encouraged to spread their seeds for more blooms). Don't be tempted to cut down the foliage, though. Keeping it intact will allow it to feed nutrients back down into the bulb. Wait until the leaves wither and turn yellow, around six weeks after flowering. When this happens, it's time to lift them.
- Lift the bulbs carefully using a garden fork, foliage still attached.
- Once lifted, brush off any soil and remove any diseased or damaged ones.
- Then, you want to put them somewhere dark and well-ventilated, in trays or a net bag. 'The best thing that you can do is keep them warm and dry,' says gardening expert Monty Don on Gardeners' World. 'Above 20°C [68°F] if you can.'
- When they've dried out, separate the bulbs. The big bulb is your main flowerer for next year. Plant this as you would a new bulb, in autumn. Smaller bulblets, which develop off the main stem, can be potted up, as explained below.
What should you do with the little side bulbs that develop off the main ones?
'Carefully remove tulip bulblets and replant them 1in (2.5cm) deep in a tray of John Innes No1,' says John Negus, a gardening expert from Amateur Gardening. 'Water them in and consign them to a sheltered, sunny part of the garden to develop strongly.
'Initially, leaves will be thin and grass-like, but bulblets will increase in size. In their second autumn, they can be transferred to a well-prepared nursery bed to become large enough to flower.'
When bulbs are 1in (2.5cm) or so in diameter, set them into a sunny border in late fall to flower in spring, he adds.
How long can you store tulip bulbs for?
Tulip bulbs can be stored for up to 12 months out of the soil, as long as conditions are suitable. It's also worth noting that bulbs often come with a 'best before' date, so bear this in mind too.
Before planting, check that they are firm and plump to the touch – not withered and brittle or soft and squidgy. If it's either of the latter, then they've had their day, and it's time to buy some replacements.
- You can add to your springtime display by learning how to plant hyacinth bulbs.
Can you leave tulip bulbs in pots?
From elaborate bulb lasagne ideas to simple window box displays, tulips are a brilliant addition to pots. But leaving them all year round is unlikely to result in a reoccurring show.
'There's a great debate on whether to treat tulips as annuals or perennials and I think, in a pot, you should treat them as annuals,' says Monty Don. 'They do their stuff, they're fantastic, and then you move on.'
As they've had tougher growing conditions than bulbs grown straight in the ground, they are less likely to flower again. Many gardeners simply discard them once they've finished blooming, and buy new bulbs the following autumn. However, there's no harm in trying your luck with lifting, storing, and replanting them for next year.
Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground?
If digging up your tulip bulbs feels like a little too much work, there's no rule against leaving them be. But do be prepared for a less impressive show, which in most instances, is likely.
However, there are a few varieties of tulip that will generally re-flower even if left in the ground all year. Try dwarf species types such as Tulipa kaufmanniana, Tulipa fosteriana, and Tulipa greigii, and other ones that are suitable for naturalizing (see below). These only need lifting and dividing when clumps get overcrowded, says the RHS.
'Although not usual, some cultivars growing in warm soils – where they can be baked in summer – may re-flower from year to year, and possibly multiply,' adds the RHS.
- You can find some of our favorite types of tulips in our guide.
Do tulip bulbs naturalize?
Unlike snowdrops and daffodil bulbs, tulips aren't hugely renowned for their naturalizing abilities. But, some tulips are much better at it than others and are a lovely way to brighten up a lawn. These tend to be the Triumph and Darwin Hybrid types, as well as 'species' tulips.
Help them on their way by planting them a little deeper than usual, ensuring growing conditions are good, leaving the foliage to die back naturally, and avoiding watering over them in summer.
After the first season, you can also try fertilizing the soil in autumn with a low-nitrogen feed. In spring, you can fertilize them again, this time with a high-nitrogen feed. You can learn more about fertilizing plants in our guide.
The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.
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