Do Tulips Need to be Cut Back Each Season?

Holster your pruners! Tulip season is fading, making way for warm-season annuals and perennials to shine. But don’t cut their foliage if you intend to try your tulips for another spring season. Here, horticulturist Katherine Rowe explores options for growing tulips as perennials and how to treat the plants post-flowering.

cut back tulips. cut back tulips. Close-up of a gardener's hands in green gloves with pruning shears pruning a tulip plant in a flowerbed. Tulips present a striking appearance with their tall, slender stems bearing a single, vibrant flower at the apex. Surrounding the base of each stem are several long, narrow leaves that emerge directly from the bulb, providing a lush green backdrop to the blooms. The flowers are cup-shaped, with smooth, colorful petals.


Tulips, with their lovely cupped blooms, are the happy harbingers of spring. Their single, double, and frilly forms and waves of color bring grace and color to the springtime garden. Long-blooming varieties like Darwin hybrids bring weeks of simultaneous color while planting multiple selections of early and late bloomers staggers flowering times for prolonged enjoyment late into the season.

After tulip blooms fade, it’s time for post-bloom care. Should tulips be cut back each season? It depends on your garden goals, and cutback takes place in simple phases. 

Tulips are short-lived spring-flowering bulbs, often grown as annuals for their strong display in their first growing year. In subsequent years, florific vigor declines. Some tulips last one to two years, while others average three to four years, depending on climate, cultural conditions, and variety. If you’re growing tulips as annuals, simply pluck the faded bulbs and add them to the compost pile to start with a fresh planting the following fall.

Tulips grown as perennials benefit from post-bloom care. Deadhead spent blooms, but don’t clip the foliage. We’ll look at reasons not to cut back your tulips to promote future flowering.

Tulip Overview

Close-up of blooming yellow tulips in a sunny garden. Yellow tulip flowers present a radiant and cheerful display with their bold, cup-shaped blooms adorned with smooth, sunny-yellow petals. The petals are decorated with red streaks and intricate patterns on the outside. These vibrant flowers typically rise on sturdy stems.
Tulips bring vibrant bursts of color to spring gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Tulipa spp
plant-type plant type Bulb, perennial or annual
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
water-needs water needs Moderate
height height 6-30 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8
soil-needs soil needs Organically rich, well-drained

A Note About Growing Tulips

Close-up of a blooming field of Darwin Hybrid 'Confucius' tulip. Each flower showcases vibrant, apricot-orange petals with a fiery golden-orange flush towards the base, creating a captivating contrast. Each flower showcases vibrant, apricot-orange petals with a fiery golden-orange flush towards the base and at the tips of the petals.
Thriving in cool winters and warm, dry summers, tulips bloom annually.

Tulips grow best in areas with cool, moist winters and warm, dry summers. In USDA zones 3-8, they bloom for a few successional spring seasons in optimal conditions.

Native to Europe and Asia, tulips grow naturally in mountainous steppes from the Balkans to the Himalayas, where cold, wet winters give way to warm, dry summers. They grow during the cool season and flower in spring, entering dormancy during the summer. Flowers decline when soil temperatures warm above 70°F (21°C).

Tulips are short-lived flowering bulbs that bloom for a few years before fading. Most of the popular large tulip hybrids aren’t true perennials. Because their vigor is best the first year, many gardeners grow tulips as annuals or short-lived perennials. Tulips decline after each bloom season, so flowers aren’t guaranteed, but there are a few post-care techniques to allow them to store food for the next round of blooming.

When to Cut Spent Blooms

Close-up of wilted tulip flowers in a sunny garden against a backdrop of green foliage. Tulip flowers are yellow and purple with dry, withered petals.
Maximize tulip bulbs’ energy by deadheading spent blooms promptly.

Spring-flowering bulbs like tulips benefit from removing spent blooms. This is especially helpful in maximizing energy storage in the bulb, which provides food for future flowering seasons.

Deadheading faded flowers prevents the plant from producing seeds. The energy that would go into seed production goes instead into food storage for the bulb. If flowers are wilting and dropping petals, it’s time to cut off the flower head or the entire stem. Remove only the flower parts and stalk, leaving foliage intact. The foliage has more work to do for the bulb.

Leave Foliage in Place Until it Fades

Close-up of two flower beds with blooming and dead tulips in the garden. Blooming tulips have beautiful cupped white flowers and long, slender, and glossy leaves that form a lush green backdrop for the vibrant blooms. Between the two rows there is a path covered with red and white tulip petals.
Resist cutting tulip leaves post-bloom to ensure bulb vitality.

The strappy, blue-green leaves of tulips complement their upright stems and flower structure. However, once the flowers fade, the leaves become floppy and aren’t as attractive post-bloom. They’re still serving an essential role in bulb growth, so take care not to cut back tulip foliage until their growing cycle is complete.

Tulip leaves continue to photosynthesize after the flowers drop, absorbing sunlight and nutrients for the bulb. Removing leaves too early means halting bulb growth and setting up weaker bulbs for subsequent seasons.

When to Remove Leaves

Close-up of gardener's hands in white patterned gloves trimming wilted yellowed leaves and stems of tulips in the garden using red pruning shears.
Gently remove yellowed tulip leaves for a tidy garden.

Remove leaves when they turn yellow or brown. Removing tulip leaves is unnecessary, and they can be left in place to break down naturally. But if you want to tidy the garden bed, a gentle pull or cut easily separates limp leaves from the top of the bulb. Yellow leaves are no longer working to support bulb growth, and the bulb is entering dormancy. Gently remove yellowed tulip leaves for a tidy garden.

Leaves usually fade within six to eight weeks of flowering, which means mid-June for some gardeners. This seems like a long time, but allowing the foliar transition is necessary for promoting healthy perennial bulbs.

To conceal tulip foliage as it fades, a display trick is to underplant tulip bulbs among other perennials that emerge in spring to cover declining leaves. Hosta, astilbe, epimedium, coral bells, lady’s mantle, and ferns are a few that bring fresh growth to the display. Once established, these perennials tolerate dryer conditions during the warm season—a plus for tulips that need less moisture during their dormant season.

If a late spring frost damages young tulip leaves, keep them intact. After a cold snap, the foliage may turn partially white or straw-colored, but the green portions continue to process sunlight and store energy.

When to Dig Tulip Bulbs

Close-up of a gardener's hands in white gloves and with a garden trowel digging up tulip bulbs in a sunny garden. Tulip bulbs with dry stems and leaves exhibit a dormant appearance, with the once-vibrant foliage now brown and desiccated. The bulbs themselves retain their firmness, covered in papery outer layers.
For best results, lift tulip bulbs after foliage fades.

Some gardeners choose to dig or “lift” tulip bulbs to preserve them for replanting the following fall. Lifting tulip bulbs spares them from extreme summer temperatures and overly wet conditions, though it doesn’t guarantee reblooming. Lifting is a helpful technique if your climate is hot and wet or you’ll be irrigating the site often and don’t want to risk leaving bulbs in place. 

Tulips require cold winters for a period of chill time (vernalization) to promote flowering. If you live in a mild climate without cool winters, lifting bulbs is an option if you plan to try to regrow tulip bulbs.

The best time to dig bulbs for summer storage is after foliage fades. Dig bulbs and remove any remaining foliage (when it’s limp, yellow, and easily pulled free). Gently shake off any excess soil and lay bulbs in a ventilated area away from direct sunlight to dry for one to three weeks.

After drying, bulbs are ready to be stored in a cool, shaded, ventilated space like a garage or basement. Tulips are accustomed to warm summer and don’t need to be chilled at this point if planting in the fall. In areas with warm winters, provide a refrigerated cooling period prior to planting in the spring. Purchase tulips “pre-cooled” or “pre-chilled” when buying fresh bulbs.

Because lifting bulbs yields variable results for tulips, think about planting them in a less prominent garden spot and adding fresh bulbs to focal displays. This expands the flowering display but doesn’t rely on tulips to fully perennialize.

Leaving Tulips in the Garden

Close-up of tulip bulbs in soil in the garden. Tulip bulbs present a compact and rounded appearance, with smooth, papery outer layers that encase the inner layers of the bulb. Their surface exhibit reddish-brown hues.
After tulips finish flowering, limit watering and fertilize.

When leaving tulip bulbs in the garden to perennialize, it’s best to reduce watering after the bulbs bloom and foliage fades. Stop watering a few weeks after flowering. Tulips rely on regular moisture during the spring growing season, but upon dormancy, they don’t need excess water (again, their natural habitats experience arid summers).

Apply an organic fertilizer (like 5-10-5) after flowering. This gives bulbs a boost in nutrition for food storage.

Tulips have finished their flowering cycle when you have a season of floppy foliage but no blooms. Pull them up, add them to the compost pile, and start with fresh bulbs in the fall. 

When growing tulips as annuals, remove them after flowering. While not essential and only sometimes feasible, removing the bulbs minimizes the rotting bulb factor for the next round of planting. With bulbs left in place in variable climates and conditions, you may get a few sporadic blooms or leaves pop up the following spring.

Perennial Tulip Selections

For the best luck with getting tulips to last for multiple seasons, opt for selections that perennialize well. Species tulips (generally shorter with large flowers) tend to be hardier than most hybrids.

Here are a few strong tulip selections to consider.

Tulipa fosteriana

Close-up of blooming tulips fosteriana 'Purissima' in the garden. Tulipa fosteriana 'Purissima', commonly known as the White Emperor, presents a striking appearance with its robust stems supporting large, goblet-shaped blooms. Each flower showcases pristine white petals with a creamy-yellow base, creating a captivating contrast.
‘Purissima’ tulips have elongated blooms and rich white petals.

Fosteriana tulips originate in the mountainous regions of Central Asia. These perennial tulips feature elongated cupped blooms with slightly flared petals. Also known as emperor tulips, favored varieties include ‘Orange Emperor’ in muted orange hues, ‘Purissima’ in white, and ‘Madame Lefeber’ (or ‘Red Emperor’) in brilliant red.

Tulipa kaufmanniana

Close-up of flowering Tulipa kaufmanniana 'Giuseppe Verdi' plants in a flower bed. 'Giuseppe Verdi' boasts a charming appearance with its sturdy stems supporting large, star-shaped blooms. Each flower showcases yellow petals with a vibrant red blush towards the base, creating a captivating contrast. The blooms rise above a backdrop of slender, green leaves
‘Giuseppe Verdi’ tulips paint spring with vibrant musical hues.

Kaufmanniana tulips (water lily tulips) feature large blooms on short stems. Flowers are cupped, trumpeted, and slightly open with long stamens and a yellow eye. Popular varieties include ‘Ancilla’ with creamy white petals with red centers and ‘Guiseppe Verdi’ with red and yellow streaked flowers.

Darwin Hybrids

Close-up shot of blooming Parade tulips against a blurred green background. Tulipa 'Parade' is a captivating variety known for its dramatic and vibrant appearance. Its sturdy stems bear large, double-flowered blooms in rich shades of crimson-red.
‘Parade’ tulips return each spring.

Darwin hybrids bear the most potential of the modern hybrid tulips in perennializing and are also long-blooming. Their true tulip form is simple and elegant, with cupped blooms in rich shades and vivid colors. Flowers are large on tall stems. Cultivars range from pure pink (‘Pink Impression’) to clear yellow (‘Golden Parade’) and bright red (‘Parade’).

Final Thoughts

Tulips are easy-care flowering bulbs. They’re especially low maintenance when grown as annuals, but with a few techniques and best practices, you may have luck with tulips reblooming for seasons to follow. 

A vital practice in growing tulips as perennials is to avoid cutting back leafy parts until the time is right, if at all. Cut off flower heads as they drop petals to prevent plants from going seed, but let foliage remain to promote growth for solid and healthy bulbs for the next bloom display.

Close-up of hyacinth bulbs too early germination. A hyacinth sprout emerges as a slender, pale green shoot from the bulb, gradually unfurling into a cluster of vibrant green leaves arranged in a basal rosette. The leaves are long, narrow, and slightly succulent, with a glossy texture and a rich green color.


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A close-up of a daffodil field, showcasing vibrant blooms with white outer petals and sunny yellow centers, radiating warmth. The slender, green stems gracefully support each blossom, swaying gently in the breeze. Lush, emerald leaves provide a verdant backdrop, completing the picturesque scene.


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