Nothing says spring in the garden quite like tulips—their bright, cup-shaped blooms eagerly announce the start of the season atop tall stems. But, if you’re fortunate to have them return again for a second spring bloom, you might notice that they just don’t have the spark they used to have the first year. Maybe the summer heat has taken its toll, or maybe they just need a little food. No matter what the reason, if digging them up and storing bulbs to plant again is in the books, here’s how to make it happen:
When to Dig Up Tulip Bulbs
Timing is key when harvesting tulip bulbs. Once your tulip flower has faded, feel free to deadhead the bloom, but leave the rest of the plant as is. By leaving the bulb and the foliage intact, you’re allowing the solar collectors in the leaves to continue gathering the energy and nutrients the bulb needs to store for next year’s growth. Once they are done recharging, though—when the leaves begin turning yellow—you can go ahead and dig up the bulb. This usually takes about 6 weeks or so after the blooming period.
How to Dig Up Tulip Bulbs
When those solar collectors are finished recharging the bulb’s batteries, use a spading fork and gently stick it into the soil about 6 inches away from where the foliage is. This will give you plenty of space to avoid damaging any of the bulbs. Stick it straight down, push it in gently, then lightly pull back on the handle. For a little added leverage and help with urging them up, you can hold onto the foliage.
Once the bulb, or clump of bulbs, is up, gently shake off the excess soil, being careful not to bruise any of the bulbs. You don’t need to remove all of the soil, though. Soil contains lots of helpful bacteria that will protect the bulb. Clear the bulb off just enough so that you can get a good look at it and inspect the bulb for any signs of rotting or disease—like soft spots or mold. Dispose of any soft or moldy bulbs.
Storing Tulip Bulbs
To prep your tulip bulbs for storage, you’ll want to get them as dry as possible as quickly as you can. We recommend laying them out in a nice, airy spot out of direct sunlight to protect them from any sun damage while drying. You can try leaving them in a shed or garage with a fan blowing on them. The trick is just to get them dry enough to harden off.
Once they’re dry, remove any old foliage and place them somewhere dry, with plenty of air circulation. We recommend placing them in a mesh bag, like an old orange or grapefruit bag, and hanging them to allow them to get as much airflow as possible. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cool them, though. Tulips are used to being warm in their summer dormancy, and they use this time to begin forming next year’s blooms—tossing them in a fridge or a cold storage room could lead to an unpleasant lack of flowers next year.
If you happened to dig up a clump of bulbs where several smaller bulbs are branching off of one main one, these might be able to be planted on their own next year. However, don’t try to pull them apart until you are ready to replant. Even then, only remove the bulbs that separate easily. If they cling to their mother, they aren’t ready to face the world on their own just yet.
Replanting Tulip Bulbs
Tulips need a chilling period, also known as vernalization, before blooming in order to perform their best. So, the best time to replant them is in fall, giving them plenty of time to chill as the mercury drops. Spring planting is also an option for those who forget to plant in fall.
Replant your tulip bulbs about 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost, as you did when you planted them before. The general rule for planting tulip bulbs that you’ll hear in gardening circles is to plant them deeper than most bulbs, at about 8 inches deep. However, we find that planting them at about 6 inches deep still produces the same beautiful blooms, while giving those burrowing pests a harder time to try and get them.
Drop your bulb in the hole and cover with soil to settle it in. Remember, moisture is crucial in promoting the root growth they need to overwinter. So, if you’re experiencing a rather dry fall with less than adequate rain, you may need to supplement watering.
If digging up and storing your tulip bulbs is in order this year, the process is pretty simple. And with these tips and tricks, you’ll easily keep your tulips safe and healthy for next year! If not, some people and especially botanical gardens consider them annuals and they get new ones for next year. It’s up to you. Balance out the work involved against the cost of getting fresh, new bulbs. Either way, we’re here if you have questions!
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