Maybe the title is a little misleading. It’s not that we don’t have a bunch of beautiful tulips. It’s just that we don’t have as many as I feel we ought to have.

Tulips, mostly orange Tulips, dot the Driveway Border

Back in 2019, after the driveway was redone, I planted 200 Tulips that were recommended as reasonably perennial. There were 40 each of 5 varieties. Of these, three were old favorites: ‘Ballerina’ (a Lily-Flowering Tulip), ‘Princess Irene’, and ‘Couleur Cardinal’ (both Single Earlies). Another two were new to us: ‘Parade’ (a Giant Darwin Hybrid) and ‘Helmar’ (a Triumph Tulip).

Tulips mix with Daffodils in the Parkway Border

Prior to this I had gone through a number of years planting hybrid or standard garden Tulips only in containers. These I treated as annuals, planting new ones every year. For beds and borders I mainly limited myself to the smaller, hardier Species Tulips. However, I got tired of all the work involved in overwintering the containers, and decided to give hybrid Tulips another try in the borders, basically in the Driveway and Parkway Borders.

Tulip ‘Parade’

What I imagined was masses of Tulips, but that’s not what I got. Instead, I got Tulips dotted among the other plants. I will say that for dotting, orange and red do very nicely. Tulips dotted through the borders look nice, but they are not jaw-dropping.

Inside Tulip ‘Parade’

The Tulips planted in 2019 are not turning out to be as perennial as I had hoped. In fact, I counted the blooms I got this year for each variety and here are the numbers (remember, I planted 40 of each):

  • ‘Parade’: 21
  • ‘Ballerina’: 21
  • ‘Princess Irene’: 14
  • ‘Helmar’: 7
  • ‘Couleur Cardinal’: 6

I should stress here that the Species and Kaufmanniana Tulips, most of which are earlier than the standard garden Tulips, have had a fine season.

Tulip ‘Ballerina’

But for the hybrid Tulips, that’s a total of 69 blooms from 200 bulbs after two years. OK, I know. Hybrid Tulips are not supposed to be very perennial. I was just hoping for more. Not sure if the results are worse because of site conditions or our recent weather, including a dry, cold spring.

Tulip ‘Princess Irene’

I’m fairly confident that losses due to rabbits and squirrels were pretty minimal, thanks to interplanting with Daffodils and liberal applications of Irish Spring soap. On the other hand, a fair number of Tulips did send up leaves without buds. Also I thought ‘Princess Irene’ and ‘Couleur Cardinal’ looked rather puny compared to the ones I grew in containers.

Tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’

Though another funny thing is that however well the Tulips fared, this has been a fantastic spring for Daffodils.

Tulip ‘Helmar’ (the red and yellow one)

So what now? Well, I’m not going to stop planting Tulips. I just love them too much. Going forward, I’m thinking I will: 1) plant more Species Tulips, both in the borders and in containers, with an emphasis on naturalizing varieties; 2) replenish the number of one or two favorite hybrid varieties with 20 or so bulbs each year; 3) go back to planting just a few containers with hybrid Tulips, and experiment with less labor-intensive means of overwintering.

In summary, my answer to problems with my Tulips is MORE TULIPS.

Tulip ‘Banja Luka’

I’ll leave you with one last item. In counting the Tulip blooms, I found I had 8 flowers of the Giant Darwin Hybrid variety ‘Banja Luka’. Checking my records, such as they are, I found that I had planted ‘Banja Luka’ in 2014 – seven years ago! How many I planted I can’t determine, but still! And I’ve been mostly ignoring this Tulip all that time. Just goes to show something, but not sure what.

How are your Tulips doing this year?

50 Comments on “Tulip Troubles”

  1. My overwintered tulips are doing well, except for my favorites – Apricot Beauty – which have been “bunnied”. The few that survived that are blooming for the 3rd year. The reds – no labels – have returned again, but not increased, and look to be as large as last year. The row of pink-fading-to-cream (no label) in the veggie garden is glorious, and the lily flowering Peppermint Stick(?) appear to have increased. They are all in well drained soil, and don’t have anything planted over them. They got occasional water when it was very dry last year, no other special treatment. However, I have the same problem as you – not enough!

  2. I do not grow tulips, so I cannot share experience; however, I can ooh and ahh over the tulips that others grow. But more than that is an overall garden effect, and I think yours is essentially and gracefully Spring. It’s beautiful!

  3. Every year I add about 20 tulips to my various gardens and every year they pop up elsewhere in the yard, sometimes in the middle of the grassy areas. I think ‘my’ resident squirrels eat a few and replant the rest. It doesn’t bother me as I find it amusing to wonder where they will grow the next spring and I only plant 20. If I planted more I would have to use those wire cages to protect them. (If they work. I don’t know.)

  4. The tulips I planted last fall that did well were Jaap Groot and an Emperor mixture. The Praestans Fuselier, not so well.

    My old existing tulips from several years ago (lots of different varieties) did very poorly, lots of leaves and few flowers. I guess they finally “ran out of gas”.

    My old daffodils did well also (I didn’t plant any new ones last fall).

    I did notice that the flowers on my bloodroot didn’t last long at all this spring, but everything else seems to be having a long lasting blooming period.

  5. The answer is always: Plant more tulips! Every year I think I have been wildly extravagant but there are never enough for a really impressive show. The only reliable tulips for coming back each year are the Darwin hybrids for me.

  6. Those rates of return of the so-called more perennial tulips aren’t great, I wonder if very old varieties will fare better? I have a tulip bred by the Dutch in the early 1900’s, Dillenburg, which did well in my borders this year so I do wonder if it will return with gusto next year. Like you, I am not too keen on the hassle of overwintering tulips in pots – where to put them for a start? I have no idea yet what I’ll do with my 8 pots of tulips this year, and your stats suggest it’s not worth keeping them, but it’s been a great show.

  7. The deal with tulips coming back year after year – or not – has always perplexed me. I too have a series of tulips that I planted waaaay back – about 8 years ago, I think – that were a gift from my mom. They put on a show every year, although I haven’t counted. I should take the time to do that & see where we are at after all this time. And yes, I suppose the answer will always be MORE tulips, lol!

  8. After seeing Princess Irene in your garden photos, I planted 15 bulbs last fall. They are lovely, but I’ll be shocked if they will look as good next year, let alone the one after that. I find most tulips diminish steadily year after year. But as bunnies devour my daffodils mercilessly, I’ll probably plant more tulips in the fall, despite their short life on my garden stage.

  9. My experiences with tulips seem very mixed too… some come up reliably again for years, some flower well one year then only send up leaves the next or disappear entirely. Those in my pots did very badly this year after a splendid display (of the same ones from the same supplier) last year. I am afraid I do not know the solution as I have no idea what the cause is, but like you I will carry on planting some favourites each year and increase the number of the botanical ones that seem to return fairly reliably. I love Ballerina and Princess Irene too. 😃

  10. Isn’t that why most of the common sort are grown merely as expensive annuals? Although I intend to try some of the more reliably perennial sorts eventually, I will not be disappointed by . . . disappointment. We do not get much chill here anyway.

  11. Your tulips – and your whole garden – are gorgeous, Jason. Always.
    But I do hear you about the diminishing returns on the quantity of tulips planted.
    It has been the same with our daffodils, making me wonder if I should just dig them out and start again. Been side-eyeing a few patches which gave no blooms at all…

  12. I was talking online with someone who also was experiencing disappearing tulips. We did some exploring, and although I can’t find the page now, I did go back to her blog and pull this paragraph that might be of interest:

    “Although technically considered a perennial, most of the time tulips act more like annuals and gardeners will not get repeat blooms season after season. The reason for this is most areas can’t recreate their native climate of having cold winters and summers that are hot and dry. In addition, many hybrid varieties are more likely to perform as annuals, so if you desire perennial tulips, you will have better success growing species types.”

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