Hi there, I hope whoever answers this is staying safe during these times. I garden in Oshawa (zone 5b), and my bed is loamy and in full sun. I recently noticed the lack of spring interest in my garden. What tulip varieties do you recommend that are reliable perennials in our area that don’t fizzle out over the years and maybe even naturalize. I’ve looked into species tulips but they aren’t really my thing, I’m thinking varieties that are more like traditional garden tulips. Thanks in advance.
I remember being very disappointed to discover that the tulips I plant petered out after a couple of years. Some had been snacked on by happy squirrels, but I later found out that tulips just don’t last forever. With hybridization, which has focussed on the bloom size and plant height, the perennial trait has been lost.
There are several tulip species that may act as perennials. See Laidback Gardener’s “Yes there are perennial tulips”. These include
- Botanical or wild tulips, also called species tulips (or hybrids that are closely related to these) – many are short, with small flowers. You mention that you may not find them interesting, but these tough little gems can thrive in sandy or rocky areas where the larger tulips cannot – so may be just the thing for tricky spots in the garden.
- Viridiflora tulips – These have chlorophyll in both flowers and leaves. The name means “green” and “flower” in Latin, and the flowers have a unique green streak/stripe. With flowers bringing an extra kick of photosynthesis, this helps the bulbs get additional energy for next year’s blooms.
- Darwin hybrid tulips – These are large tulips, available in dozens of varieties – and should be easy to find in garden centres or on-line.
Choose tulip varieties that thrive in your hardiness zone, to encourage naturalization. For example, a variety that likes hot climates with dry summers would likely not grow as well in Ontario – so would be less likely to perennialize.
Plant tulip bulbs in full sun, in soil that drains well, and to the correct depth. Note that with viridiflora and Darwin hybrids, bulbs should be planted at double the depth that is usually recommended; this is to discourage the production of little bulbs (called bulbils) that often are produced by the mother bulb, and which can drain energy from the latter. Perennial tulips need fertilizer when they are planted, as well as in the spring after they stop blooming. Do not water or fertilize the tulips during the summer.
Once the plants have finished flowering, deadhead the blooms but do not cut off the leaves, in order to help the bulb store energy for flowering the following year. I wait until the stem is dry and yellow and can be easily pulled from the ground.
I suggest that you experiment and select varieties of tulips that you find attractive. Sometimes these might be the showy hybrids, which may give a spectacular display for only one season — you will be pleasantly surprised if they return for an encore performance the next year! You may also enjoy many of the perennial tulip varieties. And always buy a few extra bulbs, you’ll lose them to hungry little garden critters.
I hope you find some terrific tulips!