Tulips are technically perennial plants that should come back every spring without the need to replant them. But depending on the climate you live in and the critters that inhabit your yard, sometimes these factors play a part in why bulbs don't survive from one season to the next.
The Ideal Growing Environment
The ideal growing environment for tulips is one with a climate of cold winters and hot, dry summers. In Holland, these conditions are the complete opposite of the perpetually wet weather. However, growers in Holland have engineered a system where temperatures and humidity are manipulated to replicate the tulips' native climate of the Himalayas. For the average weekend gardener, these feats of science are not possible, but there are some steps you can take to keep bulbs coming back year after year.
Tips for Tulip Bulbs
By providing the best growing environment possible, you give your tulip bulbs a chance to come back year each year. The first step in all of this is picking the right tulip to plant. When selecting tulips, choose bulbs that are marked as being good for naturalizing or perennializing. These hybridized strains are cultivated bulbs that have not been extensively crossbred.
Using a a bulb planter or small shovel, dig a hole at least 8 inches deep. Drop the bulb into the hole with the pointed side up and add some bulb fertilizer. Water thoroughly.
Once your first-year tulips bloom, and the flower fades, cut the flower stalk off, leaving only the foliage. You must wait until the foliage browns and dies before cutting it. This allows the plant to focus its energy into the bulb for next year, improving your odds of a repeat performance. Fertilize in fall and spring only.
Critters Ate My Bulbs
Any tulip lover will tell you that squirrels and deer are a bulb's arch-rivals. You can try commercial pest repellents or old-fashioned deterrents like mothballs but hungry bulb-loving critters can be very resourceful. The best option is to put fencing around your tulip garden or place chicken wire over the ground where you planted bulbs. But unless the chicken wire has big enough holes for foliage to grow through, you will need to remove it before spring arrives. If you are successful in keeping critters from digging up and devouring bulbs, unfortunately the threat then extends into spring when your tulips are in bloom. Deer and squirrels will often behead a tulip's flower and leave you with just a bare stalk. The only consolation in this is that the bulb itself remains intact for another season of blooms.