When is the best time time to cut tulips back after they bloom? That question becomes a hot topic later in the spring as the wondrous flowers of the tulip begin to fade and drop to the soil below.
One thing is for sure, when and how you cut your tulips back really can make a big difference in their performance. Both in their long-term health and survival, and in just how well they will bloom the following spring.
Tulip blooms are certainly beloved in early spring. The gorgeous flowers are among the first flowers to burst forth through the soil. The bright green foliage of the bulb is certainly a welcome sign, especially since the landscape is still often quite barren and boring.
Tulips can sprout as early as February if the temperatures allow, and when they do, they signal to gardeners that the long, dark days of winter are happily coming to an end. And even better – that garden season is about to hit full stride!
The End Of Tulip Season – When To Cut Back Tulips
Tulips will often flower for a solid two to three week period depending on weather conditions. And when they come into full bloom, they are quite the sight to behold!
But as tulips finally start to fade away in late spring, many gardeners are simply unsure of what to do with the stalks and decaying blooms that remain. And that is exactly when the questions begin:
Should the leaves be cut back to the ground? Do I need to leave the tulip blooms in place? Should you fertilize tulips in the spring? How about in the summer or fall? Do I need to divide my bulbs to keep them flowering?
The answers to all of the above questions are actually extremely important. To keep your tulips blooming year after year, they need to be put to “bed” properly – and that includes knowing when and what to cut back, when to give them a bit of fertilizer, and when to know it’s time to dig up and thin out your bulbs!
The good news is that all of those tasks are quite easy to do. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to care for your tulip bulbs after they flower, and how to get them ready for even bigger blooms next year!
How To Cut Back Tulips – What To Do With Tulips After They Bloom
Removing Spent Blooms
The first order of business when it comes to late spring tulip care is to remove the flower as soon as it begins to die off. Although it can be tempting to allow the flower head to remain, it can actually hurt the following year’s blooms if you do.
Allowing the spent flower of a tulip to remain with the foliage will force the plant to form seed heads. Unfortunately, when the plant produces seed heads, it actually robs precious energy from the bulbs in the soil to help in the production of the seeds.
The bad news is that when the roots use all of that energy, they can’t readily or easily get it back. The result? The bulbs will have less power the following year, which most likely will mean fewer bright and beautiful blooms.
The more quickly you remove dying or fading blooms the better. As soon as the flowers begin to fade or show signs of aging, take a sharp pair of garden scissors or hand pruners and snip the bloom off about an inch below the bottom of the flower.
Don’t Cut Your Tulips Back To The Ground
One thing you don’t want to do is cut the flower and foliage all the way back to the ground. In fact, it is important to try to leave as much of the remaining stem and foliage in place when cutting off spent flowers. Unfortunately, it can have quite the negative impact on the following year’s blooms.
The stems and foliage of tulips provide power back to the bulb as they die off. Unlike the bloom head which uses nutrients, this part of the tulip gives back nutrients to the roots below as it decays. By cutting your tulips all the way to the ground, it robs the bulbs of this valuable source of energy.
Instead of cutting the foliage and stem back, allow it to stay for a few weeks. Slowly, the remaining foliage will die back and slowly turn a yellowish / brown color. This process usually only takes ten to fourteen days, but it is vital to allow the decaying to occur. Once it does, you can then safely cut the tulips completely back to the ground.
Fertilizing – When To Cut Back Tulips
In addition to storing up power from the old foliage, tulips can also benefit greatly from fertilizing. Once again, timing is everything when it comes to fertilizing for best results!
For tulips, early fall is the ideal time to fertilize the soil where the bulbs are growing. If using a commercial fertilizer, select an all-purpose, balanced granular fertilizer that is designed for flowering bulbs. Affiliate Product link : Jobes Organics Bulb Granular Fertilizer
Be careful to work the fertilizer into only the top layer of soil, and not directly near the bulb. Fertilizer applied directly to the bulbs can burn both the bulbs and roots.
As an alternative, you can also simply put a few inches of compost on top of the soil where your bulbs are planted. As the compost breaks down, the nutrients will leach down to the bulbs. This too will help them store energy for the following spring’s blooms. See: How To Make Great Compost
Digging Up Old Tulips & Dividing – When To Cut Back Tulips
After a few years in the same soil, tulip bulbs should be dug and divided to keep them strong. A good rule of thumb is to dig them up every three to five years. As for when to do this, the best time is after they have died back and stored their energy.
You can do this as you cut back the decaying foliage in late spring, or in the early fall. The important part is to not dig them up in early spring or before they can have time to resupply the energy to their bulbs.
When digging and dividing, save only bulbs that are firm and strong. If bulbs look pale or feel soft, discard them. They simply won’t have the energy or life to overwinter and bloom next year.
Here is to keeping your tulips blooming strong year after year with a little spring care now – and fall fertilizing later!
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