Plant perennial tulips

Plant perennial tulips for dependable blooms year after year

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I used to think that all tulips came back every year. Pretty much every bulb I had ever planted would reappear each spring. In the house I currently live in, I had a few dependable bulbs that would bloom in my front garden. However after a few years, I noticed some were only producing leaves. It turns out that flower production ebbs in certain types of tulip. If you want your bulbs to bloom each year, you need to look for perennial tulips.

Choosing perennial tulips

Technically all tulips should be perennial. However years and year of hybridizing, not to mention the fact that our North American conditions do not align with those where tulips originate, means that for some types, the bloom reliability will wane. Also, there are many tulips that have been bred for the cut flower industry. The focus for those has been on producing one big beautiful bloom on a strong stem. Grow once, dig up the bulbs and start over next year.

I first spotted the ‘Lac van Rijn’ tulip at the Keukenhof in the historical garden—it dates back to 1620!

I first spotted the Lac van Rijn tulip at the Keukenhof in the historical garden—it dates back to 1620!

If you want your tulips to come back each year, there are some clues that will help you when putting together your bulb order. Look for the words “naturalizing,” “species,” and “perennializing,” as you scan through the tulip selection at the store, in a catalogue, or online. Those words tell you they’re perennial tulips and not varieties that will only bloom once. The great thing about these bulbs is not only will they come back, they will multiply each year in the garden.

It’s important to note that species tulips are more diminutive in size. They are often called “dwarf tulips.” They may not stand tall enough for vases (unless you’re creating miniature arrangements), but I think their pretty faces are so cheerful and vibrant as they open in the garden.

Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder': This species tulip stands at a mere six inches tall, but it makes up for its shorter stature with its pretty pink and yellow face. Wildflower tulips like this one are the only tulips that are deer resistant.

Tulipa bakeri Lilac Wonder: This species tulip stands at a mere six inches tall, but it makes up for its shorter stature with its pretty pink and yellow face. Wildflower tulips like this one are the only tulips that are deer resistant.

There are also categories of tulips that will lead you to repeat tulip blooms: I’ve found Botanical, Viridflora, Darwin hybrid, Triumph, and Greigii are the ones most commonly found in lists.

Botanical tulips

These flowers, that are among the first to bloom in spring may be small, but they are mighty. Also called species tulips, these perennial tulips are deer resistant and naturalize really well in the garden. They may be mistaken for other flowers because they don’t have the same lithe shape of a traditional tulip, but these are the originals!

Look for these stunners: Peppermint Stick, Humilis Alba Coerulea Oculata, Tulipa acuminata, Tulip Tarda, and the two pictured in this article, Lilac Wonder and Pulchella Violacea

Viridflora tulips

It looks as though Mother Nature took a paintbrush dipped in green to add a unique flair to Viridflora tulips, one of the most unique perennial tulips. In fact, in Latin, viridis means green and flora means flower. Blooms are said to last longer on these.

Look for these beauts: Flaming Spring Green, Nightrider, and China Town

Darwin hybrid tulips

These big perennial tulips have that typical tulip shape and can grow up to 24 inches tall! Darwin hybrids are a result of a Dutch breeder crossing Red Emperor tulips with Darwin tulips. They make gorgeous cut flowers and bloom in mid to late spring.

Look for these showstoppers: Apricot Delight, Juliette, Pink Impression, and Ad Rem

Triumph Tulips

According to iBulb, the promotional agency for the flower bulb sector, Strong Gold is the most popular tulip variety. But there are also lots of other colours in this group, which is the largest group of tulips.

Look for these lovelies: Cairo, Jimmy, Arabian Mystery, and Flaming Flag

Greigii tulips

Greigii tulips are shorter in stature (but not as short as species tulips), but they make up for it with interesting blooms and foliage, which can be variegated.

Look for these standouts: Plaisir, Albion Star, Quebec, and Toronto

Planting perennial tulips in the garden

It’s important that you plant your bulbs as soon as you receive them in the mail or bring them home from the store. You don’t want them to dry out in your garage or shed!

Empreror tulips are among several varieties of perennial tulips.

Red Emperor is a Fosteriana tulip and one of the first to bloom in the spring. It reliably multiplies each year in my garden.

Plant your tulip bulbs a bit deeper than recommended in full sun—about eight inches down. I use a special bulb-planting tool, like this one, to remove the soil and then a trowel to dig down more if I need to.

Like all flower bulbs, tulips prefer well-drained soil. The first year that you plant them, don’t worry about fertilizing your bulbs, as all the energy and nutrients they need to grow are contained in the bulb. Once you dig them in, water your bulbs to encourage root growth.

Once blooms are spent in the spring, deadhead the flowers themselves, but leave the foliage to die back on its own.

Perennial tulips come in many different colors, including green.

Evergreen tulip: While the structure and shape says “tulip,” I love how unique these green tulips look among the other spring bulbs in my garden. They even look stunning and retain their shape as they dry out!

Protecting your perennial tulips from squirrels

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing tulip bulbs sitting on top of the soil with bite marks. In my article on dealing with squirrels, I mention using hen manure to deter them from digging up your freshly planted bulb site. This worked for me last fall when I planted a mixed border of tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs. I planted them deeply and sprinkled Acti-Sol over the site and nothing disturbed them!

Pulchella Violacea tulip

‘Pulchella Violacea’: This bulb was a treat because I thought I was buying something else. The plant’s leaves are long and thin, quite unlike the shape of other tulips. And they’re also supposed to naturalize well.

More fall bulb ideas

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Plant perennial tulips for dependable blooms year after year

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