The Q&A Archives: Reasons for Tulips that Don't Bloom

Question: Two years ago I planted some tulip bulbs and they bloomed beautifully the following spring. Last fall when I wanted to redo some things, I dug them up and discovered each bulb had divided in to 2 and sometimes 4 bulbs. I replanted them in clusters. This spring hardly any of them bloomed at all. Most didn't even come up and those that did, just had one or two leaves. Last fall, while I was moving the older bulbs, I put in more tulips and am afraid they might not bloom again next spring like theydid this spring. The question is, how do I keep my tulip bulbs blooming year after year as nice as the first year I bought them? Do I need to lift the bulbs every year? If so, when? I tried bulb food for them, but it doesn't seem to work on olderbulbs. Also, will those tulips that didn't do well this year mature eventually so they do bloom? Bulbs for all their ease, seem to be a mystery. Where can I learn more about these things? Any ideas? Sally Santiago North Bend, WA

Answer: Tulips, unfortunately, are rarely reliable perennials. They generally put on a wonderful show the first year, then decline in size and number of flowers with each successive year. Some varieties will perform better in certain locations but, generally, unlike daffodils and crocuses, they can't be counted on to flourish year to year. There is really no need to dig up your tulip bulbs each year, unless they are in the way for planting other things. If you really want a reliable spectacular tulip show each year, you'll need to plant fresh bulbs each year. Your local garden center, library, or book store should carry gardening books devoted to bulb gardening, and most general gardening books have a section devoted to bulbs.

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