Taking care of Tulips
Spring 2019 in Utah was wet and cool; perfect weather for Tulips and other spring flowering bulbs.
Now that they are through showing off their color what do you do? I have had people ask me when is the proper time to dig tulips or do I need to dig them at all? The short answer is Tulips should be dug after the foliage has died and yes, you should dig and separate your tulips.
For the sake of spring planting, it is not always practical to wait until the Tulips and Daffodils have completely died back. In order for the bulbs to mature it is important to wait as long as you can. If you must dig them early, leave the stems and leaves intact for storage.
The next question is usually, how often should tulips be dug. This question is answered best by understanding the life cycle and propagation of Tulips and other bulbs. Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, Hyacinth and other flowering bulbs propagate themselves by both seed production and bulb division. For example, the single tulip bulb planted in the fall will bloom in the spring and from it 4 to 6 new bulbs will form. Of these, 2 to 4 (the quantity may vary depending on soil and other conditions) will be big enough to produce a bloom the next year. Where there was one bulb there is six. If left in the ground, those six can be as many as 20 the following season. Tulips especially can quickly over crowd themselves to the point the bulbs are not able to produce more than a leaf or two. I generally dig and separate my Tulips after their second season of blooms.
The longer you can leave the bulbs in the ground before digging the bigger they will be. Larger bulbs produce larger flowers. With that said, Tulips and other bulbs can be dug without any problem when there is still green in the stem and leaves.
Once they are out of the ground all the bulbs need is a cool, dry place out of the sun. When they have dried completely, the dead foliage is easily removed and the bulbs can be separated and left in dry storage for planting in October. These bulbs will do fine in the dense shade of the plum trees.
I have found that it is not necessary to dig Daffodils and other bulbs as often as Tulips. If you choose to leave your bulbs in the ground year after year and you see the blooms becoming fewer and smaller, you will know that they should have been lifted and separated.
Generally speaking, when it is time to dig the tulips, it is time to plant Gladiolus.