How long do YOU wait before you cut back tulip foliage??

Prettypetals_GA_7-8April 7, 2011

I have read to wait til foliage starts to die back and then I have read to wait a certain amount of weeks and then you would be safe to cut them back. How long do you wait? They emerged in Feb and I was hoping by the end of April or mid May would be enough time for them to build up enough energy for next years bloom. Let me know what you do. Thanks, Judy

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christinmk z5b eastern WA

It always seems to take tulip foliage a long time to brown/yellow here. The look doesn't bother me especially, so I always tend to let it stay up until they have lost most of their green color. It is fine to cut it down sooner though, soon after it starts to yellow.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 4:14PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I always give Tulips and Daffs at least 6 weeks after I've nipped the seed heads off before removing the foliage.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 4:42PM
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I don't cut them back. The foliage actually does help the bulbs strengthen up for the next season. The dutch actually will just destroy them and plant fresh new bulbs for the next season,

Anyway, i know this isn't an option and what a waste if we treat them as annuals. Here's what I do. I seed annuals among the tulips so that as the foliage die off, the annuals start growing and covering up the foliage. Another trick is to seemingly extend the season of the tulips - and you can do this by layering and mixing different season tulips and daffodils together. So early season comes up first, then mid season tulips and last late season tulips. the daffodils serve to deter squirrels and raccoons from digging out the tulips.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:00PM
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I usually don't cut them off, tho they can be safely cut when they go yellow. I have so much other stuff to do in the garden that I just ignore them until they turn brown and are easily pulled away. By that time they are covered up by something else anyway.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:13PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ditto what mosswitch says... I don't remove the foliage until it comes loose with only a gentle tug. That can be July here! But the beds are densely planted and the foliage is largely hidden by perennials and shrubs. Most of my tulips have been coming back and multiplying for ten years or so. Plant deep when you plant, remove all seedheads as soon as they start to form, let the foliage ripen completely, and you will have a much better chance of having the tulips return in subsequent years.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:30PM
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Thanks everyone!! These answers were what I was expecting. I do have most of them interplanted with other perennials and added a few annuals between some of them today. I have a couple spots though that are in a bed that I am re-doing and I made a line of tulips in the very front planted very close together so I think it will be nearly impossible to plant anything inbetween them. Oh well, I will just let them sit there as long as I can stand it. You know when you say they are largely hidden by perennials and shrubs then how does the sun get to them or is the sun not a factor at that point?? I know, probably a dumb question, lol!! It is hard work planting the bulbs so I will definitely let them sit for a looooong time because they were so gorgeous this year and I hope to see them alllllll again next year. Thanks again everyone, Judy

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:47PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Once the foliage starts to yellow, I think the sun becomes unimportant. What is important at that time is that the plant have time to transport the nutrients from the leaves to the bulbs. That's why you shouldn't cut the leaves off too early - you'd take away those nutrients.

I'd suggest you consider rearranging the beds with the lines of tulips at the front to move the tulips back and plant other things in front. If you plant things that are slow to take off in the spring, the tulips would have their chance to shine and then the perenials would take over.

In your zone, will tulips be perennial? I'm not sure if there is too much summer heat and humidity and not enough winter cold... I think in your climate you'd have to plant the bulbs very deep to have a chance of them returning. I gather the soil in GA is fairly heavy clay...? You would usually plant bulbs a little less deep in clay than lighter soil. I think you may need to do a bit of experimenting and ultimately still not be successful at getting them to return well. You might have more success if you stick to Fosteriana or Kaufmanniana type tulips which are more inclined to naturalize. The smaller Turkestannica and other 'botanical' tulips are also a favorite of mine that naturalize both from bulb offsets and seed. The Darwin hybrid tulips are the best choice from 'regular' tulips because they are crosses with tulips that naturalize. Greigii tulips are also good naturalizers.

These are my favorite tulips that I'm waiting to see again soon:

Ivory Floradale, Queen of the Night, and Angelique:

Ivory Floradale (which starts off pale yellow and fades to creamy white...) and Turkestannica (or perhaps Dasystemon Tarda - I have both and am no longer sure which is which!)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 11:16AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Great info on here. I usually wait until they are browned up and easily pulled off, but that's purely because it's a chore I just don't bother doing.

Ianna, I really like your idea of seeding in annuals with the bulbs. I have a lot of bulbs in the new backyard area and there is nothing else around them. I happen to have a lot of annual seeds I wanted to scatter but didn't have much of a plan yet for them. You are now helping me formulate some ideas!

Woodyoak, I will add to my todo list not letting the tulips go to seed. I hadn't even thought about that shortening the life of the bulb. Thanks for that info.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 6:08PM
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Hi woodyoak, I have had several in the past return so I really hope most of my new ones will do so also. You know I really thought it would be easier to interplant some annuals to cover up the leaves while they were getting their nutrients and in most of my spots I can but I do have a couple rows I planted tooooo close so I will just have to wait til they die back and plant some annuals later than normal. I really wanted some in the very front but yes I agree, I wish I had planted them back some. You live and learn I suppose. Boy have I done alot of that.

I had planned on moving them and was wondering when would be a good time to do that too. I was hoping to move them back some after the foliage starts to die back so I wouldn't have to hunt for the bulbs later when there was nothing to show me where they were. Make sense??

We do have clay but not alot. Most of the spots are in very good, rich dirt. I tried to plant them as deep as recommended so hopefully they would return for me. Your pictures are lovely. Thanks again for your help, Judy

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 8:47PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

The 'experts' all say to transplant bulbs in fall, but I never wait that long!! You are right that it is more difficult digging them up after the foliage has died down/been cut back. You usually end up splicing more bulbs in half than extracting them whole. You can wait until just after they are done flowering to move them. I have done this for years and have zero problems with it- they come up perfectly fine the next year. ;-) Only thing in planting right after flowering is you need to keep the foliage intact and replant the bulb with it on so it can continue to gather nutrients.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 9:12PM
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Thanks cmk!! Do you have an easy way to extract the bulbs or do you just work carefully? I guess if I lose a few at least I know they have been moved to where I really want them and I won't have to worry about it next year, hopefully! lol!!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 10:28PM
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natalie4b(7b GA)

I never extract the bulbs, just leave them in the ground. Way too many bulbs are planted everywhere, and extra job means extra time, and a chance to damage bulbs in a process. Whatever survives - great!
Tulips are rather biannuals in our climate (Georgia), so I trim the foliage second year - because year number 3 it is mostly foliage anyway.
Daffs - I wait till it begins to brown/yellow, and I hide it among daylilies or whatever grows in vicinity. If nothing grows around - I neatly lay down the foliage in one direction - it is more pleasing to the "obsessed with neatness eye". It is recommended just let them be though, not tie them in a knot as some ppl do, just allow them to absorb as much sunlight as they can to feed the bulb for the next season.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 8:36AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

thyme - definitely remove the seedheads from the big tulips and daffodils as soon as you see them start to form - actually, as soon as the tulips drop their petals and the daffodil flowers start to fade, I cut the flowerstalk down to the base. It reduces the 'mess' factor considerably by not having that dead-straight yellowing stalk poking up. It's easier to hide the basal leaves among other plants than it is to try to hide that stalk!

But the small 'botanical' tulips and dwarf type daffodils should be allowed to set seed because most of those will spread nicely from seed without as much weakening of the 'mother' bulb - or at least the seedlings get to flowering size before the 'mother' bulb wears out.

Judy - tulips are usually recommended to be planted about 6" deep - I aim for 8" in heavier soil and 10" or more in lighter soil (which I don't have!) In your climate, I'd think planting deep would increase their odds of returning for more years. Another important factor I think is to not water where they are too much during their dormant period. I don't think they like that. So make sure any companion perennials are not water-hogs that you need to provide a lot of supplemental water to in the summer.

If I know I want to divide or move a clump, I wait until the foliage is ready to be removed and do it then (usually early July here). I that is not good timing (e.g. because I have to move/lift the companion perennial too and it's not a good time to disturb that plant...) I just mark where the bulbs are, either by leaving a bit of the old stems showing or put a few sticks in the ground or something like that... Then I can find them easily again when the time is right to move them.

When we dig them, we start the hole back from the edge of where we've marked the bulb location. We know how deep them are, so it's fairly easy to dig them up without too much risk of damage.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 10:33AM
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