Ask a Gardener – Tulips

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Do tulips have to die completely back before leaves can be pulled off? If they are pulled off too early, will they bloom next year?

– Monica

In general, it is recommended to let tulips die back all the way before you pull off the leaves. As long as the leaves are green they are still photosynthesizing light and providing nutrients for the blub. Removing the leaves too early can result in smaller bulbs which can sometimes affect the next year’s flowers. So to maximize their sunlight intake, it’s best to leave the leaves until they all brown and die, then pull them out.

However, especially if you’re a tidy garden type, a couple of months of bloomless-blahs is not a very happy notion. To keep things looking tidy, you can pull off individual leaves as they brown and die. Some gardeners also strike a compromise, cutting the leaves back half-way. This saves most of the leaf for photosynthesis, but still keeps things looking shipshape. Finally, you might consider pairing your tulips with taller, early summer blooming perennials that can take over the spotlight just as the tulips are taking their final bow.