Faded Tulips: Cut Off Or Dig Up?

The tulip (Tulipa) from the lily family is one of the most popular and elegant spring bloomers and convinces with single or double flowers. The numerous flower colors and hues are just as diverse and variable as the flower shapes and the growth heights of the individual varieties. With the end of flowering, however, it is far from over with the tulip, even if the flowering splendor has given way to a rather miserable appearance. After all, only with proper care after flowering and pruning at the right time, the flowering splendor will be repeated the next year.

After the bloom

After flowering, not all life has left the tulips. Right now, the processes for the continuation within the green parts of the plant and the bulb are running at full speed. The tulip now invests a lot of energy in the formation of seeds, which is very draining for it.
After removing the flowers, the plant can focus on the growth of daughter bulbs. However, this can not be done without the leaves, which are still green. Consequently, it makes sense to cut tulips in two stages. On the question of whether to dig up the bulb afterwards or not, opinions differ, possible both.

Cut off wilted flowers

In the first step, only the flowers are cut off, provided that they are completely withered. Thus, energy-sapping seed growth is prevented. Tulips are herbaceous and perennial plants that develop from a bulb. By nature, these plants strive to reproduce by brood bulbs but also by seeds to ensure their continued existence.
In contrast, amateur gardeners are usually more concerned with a lush bloom. For this reason, it makes sense to cut off wilted flowers unless you need them to produce seeds. Removal of wilted flowers takes a supporting role within the care. Therefore, the plants should not be cut off completely after flowering in any case, because the green leaves still perform an important function.

Waiting for the right time

The wilted flowers are gone, only the stems and leaves are still standing, and that’s a good thing. The nutrients contained in the green parts of the plant, which the tulip normally uses for seed formation, now benefit the storage organs, i.e. the tulip bulb or the incubating bulbs, after the wilted flowers have been removed.

  • Bulbs create an energy depot for the next tulip season
  • Process of rearrangement of nutrients takes some time
  • Should not be interrupted by early removal of leaves
  • Healthy and strong bulb, the basis for many years of magnificent flowering
  • Therefore, do not cut the leaves too early or too late
  • Leaves dry up gradually
  • They remain until they too are completely wilted
  • There should be no green spots left
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Only then can leaves and stems be cut off at ground level. Usually they can be plucked off quite easily at this point. Cutting the leaves too early deprives the tulip of important nutrient reserves, practically destroying them. It is no less threatening if you wait too long. The leaves become muddy, begin to rot, and thus can promote both a pest infestation and diseases.

Care after flowering

Although it may not seem like it, the tulip still needs care for about two months after the withered flowers are removed to be ready for the next season. Accordingly, continue to fertilize the remaining parts of the plant as normal and provide them with a little sifted compost or horn shavings immediately after flowering.

For tulips in pots or tubs, suitable liquid fertilizers are available, which can be added to the water. Watering is not necessary, the natural rainfall is usually sufficient, because the tulip bulb prefers a rather dry soil anyway.

Digging up bulbs or leaving them in the ground?

Tulip bulbs can be dug up in the summer but also left in the ground all year round, both options are possible. Among the numerous varieties of tulips, there are those whose bulbs divide into several small brood bulbs after the growing season, but only the largest of which blooms in the coming season before it too divides again.

In contrast, the growth of other varieties is concentrated mainly on a single bulb. But what is the argument for digging and what for leaving the bulbs in the ground?


A few years ago, it was the rule rather than the exception to dig up tulip bulbs after they had bloomed. This was to ensure that they come through the summer dry. There are reasons that justify digging but also some that argue against it.

  • In permanently wet locations, digging is recommended.
  • Leaves must be completely wilted
  • Bulbs in the ground, may be a hindrance during planting operations.
  • In beds with summer flowers and perennials, dig out for space reasons.
  • This creates space for the other plants
  • Carefully remove bulbs from the soil
  • Best done with a standard digging fork
  • Dig up the daughter bulbs as well
  • Do not damage the storage organs
  • Then shake off only the loose soil
  • Some soil should remain on the bulbs
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Now the tulip bulbs must be stored appropriately until the next planting in the fall. Unfortunately, during storage there is a risk that the bulbs will dry out during it, because they lose a lot of water through evaporation. In addition, when digging up the roots of the bulbs can be injured.

Tip: To maintain the vitality of the tulips or their bulbs and counteract soil fatigue, tulips should generally be transplanted every three to four years, i.e. moved to another location.

Store bulbs properly after digging

Only healthy and intact onions should be stored. To sort out damaged specimens, it is best to use a brush to remove the residual soil still adhering to the bulbs. After that, damaged areas are easier to identify and the bulbs in question can be sorted out. The remaining bulbs should be stored in a dry, dark, cool and airy place, for example in an unheated cellar, until they can be planted out again in autumn or from September.

Tulpenzwiebeln in Aufbewahrungsgefäß

For example, you can put them in a conventional fruit staircase or wooden box, which you have lined with paper, or in a box on dry sand. To protect them from rodents and other pests, it is best to cover the crate or crate with a tightly woven wire, net or gage. During the entire period of storage, each bulb should be inspected every few days to check for rot and mold.

Onions that are injured or damaged must be regularly sorted out and disposed of in household waste.

Tip: To be able to plant the tulips again in the fall in the desired color combination, it is advisable to store them sorted by color and clearly label them.

Leave in the ground

As an alternative to digging, tulip bulbs can also be left in the ground permanently. Again, there are reasons for and against this. In locations without waterlogging, there is usually no need to dig out, and the bulbs can remain in the ground all year. Even though tulip bulbs tend to like it dry, they are protected in the ground from drying out too much.

If the bulbs remain in the ground, you should know that over the years they move deeper and deeper into the earth, so it becomes more and more difficult for them to grow upwards, and eventually even disappear completely. Regular transplanting about every three to four years can counteract this problem. Another danger is posed by voles and other rodents, whose diet includes flower bulbs in particular. To protect them from damage or total loss, they should only be planted in baskets or wire netting that is not too large-meshed.

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Tip: If you want the tulips to develop into real flower carpets at some point, you should definitely leave them in the ground. This is the only way to give them the opportunity to multiply naturally.

Tulip poisonous?

Before any care work, as well as when planting and transplanting these bulbous flowers, you should know that all parts of this plant are poisonous, both the flowers, leaves and stems, as well as the bulb. Their toxicity is due to the so-called tulposides, toxins with harmful effects in contact with the skin and especially when consuming individual parts of the plant. Thus, contact can cause skin irritation, inflammation and eczema.

If several onions or other parts of the plants are eaten, stomach cramps, vomiting as well as circulatory disorders may occur, and in the worst case, even respiratory arrest may occur. This should be considered especially if small children or even pets could come into contact with it. In addition, tulip bulbs can easily be confused with conventional edible onions.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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