Which Tulips Naturalize

Tulips are the emblematic spring flower with large, showy blooms and a color pallet wider than virtually any other type of bulbs. Few plants elicit the delight and nostalgia connected with tulips.

Tulips are often viewed as a short-lived perennial or even an annual by gardeners and designers since the bulbs need to be purchased and planted in the fall. This results in a show of spring color that is much too brief when compared to box-store annuals that bloom from May until the first frost.

This is due to the fact that under typical garden circumstances, many tulip species do not perennialize successfully. Even in dry, rocky soil, Tulipa gesneriana wild populations, the first tulip species to be pulled up from the mountains of Iran and Turkey for cultivation, are strong, but centuries of breeding and pampering in northwest Europe have made them picky. Many of these widely used commercial types prefer carefully regulated soil conditions and temperature treatments. They dislike summer rain, and in the garden, they are prone to “breaking” (excessive division) into many little bulbs that are all incapable of blooming. Small spikes of leaves make up the majority of the growth the following year, and things only get worse from there. If cultivating tulips really required so much work, I might as well stop and concentrate on an other group of plants.

But it’s not necessary for that to be the case. Even though they are widely grown, the high-maintenance tulip cultivars don’t always represent a tough and hardy species of plants. Tulips can be a great and carefree long-term investment in the garden in any area with a cold winter and moderate spring with a little selectivity and forethought. Tulips can be some of your most dependable and persistent low-maintenance perennials, especially in the semi-arid American West.

Tulips that return year after year: Getting your bulbs to naturalize

A definition first. When referring to bulbs, the term “perennialize” normally denotes that the flowers will typically not grow but instead return for at least 3 to 5 years, if not forever. Since we have no control over nature, the number of perennializers could be permanently reduced in a bad year with unusually destructive weather or a deluge of ravenous rabbits and deer. A simple perennializer will ultimately need to be refilled because it can’t come back rapidly. The term “naturalize” refers to the plants’ ability to recover quickly from practically any brief setback by growing and spreading like wildflowers.

The Tulipa genus includes a large number of species that are indigenous to central Asia, the chilly mountainous regions of the Middle East, and southern Europe. They grow in a variety of temperature zones, from dry alpine to Mediterranean. To put it another way, tulips are native to regions with conditions similar to those in western North America. All of these diverse climates have a chilly winter, a quick but moderate spring with at least some precipitation or lingering moisture from snowmelt, and then a dry summer. They frequently grow at high altitudes where the weather is unpredictable and snowstorms might last into the spring. The ephemeral tulip evolved to be extraordinarily tolerant of growing and flowering amongst sporadic strong frosts and cold because of this. It can emerge from the earth, grow swiftly, bloom, and then become dormant in a period of two to three months before summer’s heat. While farmed tulips can be more particular, frequently resenting a wet summer or soil that is too rich or dense, wild tulips tend to be tolerant of a wide range of climatic and cultural circumstances.

Keeping this in mind, picking the proper varieties of tulips at the start is the most crucial step in creating a tulip garden that naturally spreads.

We must immediately give up on several of the most well-liked classes of marketed tulips if we want a perpetual tulip garden that doesn’t require continual replenishment. Avoid using imposing single late tulips, spectacular double tulips, exotic fringed, viridiflora, and Rembrandt tulips, trumpet tulips, and the formal cup-shaped single early and Triumph tulips when planning your garden. There are some cultivars of these kinds that do perennialize reasonably well, and if you are fortunate enough to have the ideal soil and microclimate in a particular area of your garden, some of them may multiply well. But generally speaking, I advise conserving these transient types for an accent, scattered in a contrasting color for a startling outstanding effect that only calls only a few bulbs. For the tulip garden’s structural support, I advise adhering to tried-and-true multipliers in large quantities.

Thankfully, there are so many different varieties of tulips, in so many different forms and hues, that the remaining classes—the naturalizers—give us plenty of options.

Hardy Greigii tulips, which have large midseason blooms, strong stems, and interestingly patterned foliage that is appealing even when it is not in bloom, are my favorite kind of tulip. Some Greigii tulip cultivars are robust enough to produce a standard-sized plant and blossom that is almost as large as one from a commercially purchased bulb from a small offset bulb in the early spring. Furthermore, Greigii tulips can withstand herbivore grazing and wear and tear to an extent that would be lethal to other tulip groups.

The most well-known and well-known of the tulip varieties that can reproduce, Darwin tulips are most frequently observed in bloom in an old garden that hasn’t had any recent plantings. Even one or two of these tulips might be visible in a deserted lot. Darwin hybrids, which bloom in the middle of spring and have a highly “traditional and recognized tulip shape, are produced by mating robust fosteriana tulips with showy solitary late tulips. They are present halfway between perennializers and naturalizers. Although they may grow in a variety of environments and are simple to replant each year, they rarely form large clumps and may finally lose the war in a garden where more tenacious perennials or weeds drive them out. However, you may get them to maintain their numbers and even progressively grow your stock in a garden that is even moderately managed.

Fosteriana tulips, also referred to as emperor tulips, provide up half of the genetic makeup of Darwin hybrids and are the source of their ability to endure. Fosterianas are large, beautiful spring bloomers that have odd hourglass-shaped blooms and spread their petals widely to mimic both tulips and oriental poppies on a sunny day. They are reliable naturalizers and will proliferate in the majority of situations.

Tulips from the Kaufmaniana genus spread their petals widely to show eye-catching bullseye patterns in the center of a star-shaped bloom, giving them a shape that is uncharacteristic of tulips. Their firmly closed blossoms look slim and frequently display changing hues on the outside on a chilly or foggy day. The plants are small—between five and eight inches tall—extremely resistant to snow and frost, and they bloom earlier than any other variety of tulip, often even before daffodils.

The last category of tulips is species tulips, which is really just a catch-all for whatever is left over from all the previous tulip groups. Each type of tulip is a distinct species, many of which are too diverse to hybridize, whereas the other classes are typically different blends of a few closely related species within the Tulip genus. As a result, this class of tulips has greater genetic variation than all the others combined. Since the majority of the types were just recently introduced to cultivation, they are frequently referred to as “wild tulips. This classification typically includes many tiny plants, some of which are only two inches tall. It also includes some of the most tenacious and robust multipliers (although not all of them will multiply as quickly). Many of them either send up successive flowers from the same bulb or produce multiple flowers on a single stalk. They are different and unique enough that guests would be astonished to realize that some of your species tulips are even tulips, and they can spread through your garden not just by offsets but also by seed.

The best sites for naturalizing tulips

You have a wide range of alternatives for planting tulips that will come back year after year if you have the correct varieties with you. While naturalizers can grow in poor clay soil and don’t really need fertilizer as long as mulch or compost is occasionally used as a top-dressing to recycle nutrients in your garden, tulips will typically suffer in damp soil and tend to prefer a sandy soil.

Tulips enjoy full sun to part shade as a general rule.

If you live in a mainly cloud-free region like New Mexico or Colorado, I’d say you need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight every day, but 6–10 hours of direct sunlight with some afternoon shadow is optimal. You should try to get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight if you live in the Pacific Northwest or Eastern U.S.

The majority of the locations in your garden, even those that are shaded by trees, will count as full sun until the tulip season is winding down since tulips emerge and bloom in the early spring before deciduous trees have begun to leaf out. The dappled shadow that emerges as the trees begin to leaf out later in the spring can shield fading tulip foliage from heat and keep it green longer, so planting next to trees can actually be very beneficial to your tulips. This means that the plant will have a chance to produce more and larger bulbs for the flowers of the next year.

On the other hand, in sunnier areas, the South-facing side of a house, fence, or building may not be the best location for tulips. A southerly exposure’s heat tends to break tulips’ dormancy too early in spring, causing them to blossom when strong frosts can still nip the petals. This location has both of these issues. The flower’s lifespan is shortened as a result of the dehydration caused by the noon heat, which causes the petals to become ragged and faded. Full sun at noon will kill all blooms besides those of the species tulips if the unexpectedly warm spring weather elevates the temperature above 80.

A neglected space close to a sidewalk or driveway where shoveled snow accumulates over the winter is one location I adore using for tulips. Tulips like the winter moisture and insulation that the extra snowpack provides, provided that it is not salt-laden. The soil’s ability to hold water after snowmelt frequently allows tulips to survive the growing season without any additional irrigation. When the plants are dormant in the summer, the garden bed dries out—perfect circumstances for tulips. Tulips, which do not lose much moisture to evaporation when temperatures are cool in spring, may thrive in any dry, unwatered environment.


Making sure the planting bed is not too dense is one crucial factor in getting tulips to naturalize properly. Although arranging bulbs in drifts or clusters is always beautiful, the clusters should be loose. Large tulip types’ bulbs should be planted 8 to 10 inches apart (or in clusters of three to four bulbs placed at least a foot apart), while smaller kinds’ bulbs should be planted six inches apart (or in clusters surrounded by a wider space).

The problem is that each bulb will have grown into a little cluster after a few of years, and too much competition can stunt them. Tulip bulbs are easy to find just before they go into dormancy, but their skins are still delicate, and digging can easily pierce them. In the meanwhile, you’ll find that tulips are a little challenging to dig and divide without uncovering the entire garden. The bulbs are firm and easy to pull out later in the summer or fall, but it’s more likely that the decayed leaves indicating where the bulbs are buried has already disappeared. Even though digging and dividing bulbs is an excellent approach to maintain and expand your collection, it can be challenging to be completely thorough if your objective is to move an entire planting or drastically reduce your supply.

Care and cultivation

Tulips grow best with little to no intervention, other from the appropriate plant selection and placement. Most critically, this entails maintaining the leaves even after the blossoms have disappeared. Although this is purely ornamental, planting tulips in and around other flowers and perennials can serve to break up the monotonous green foliage and lessen the urge to cut. Actually, all that needs to be done is to replenish the mulch every so often.

Although some tulip varieties are sterile or unwilling to set seed, occasionally you may notice the seedpod starting to swell. Snapping those off is appropriate to encourage energy flows down to the developing bulb rather than up to the developing seeds because most tulips take several years to grow from seed to blossom, and that’s under cautious conditions. I would only make an exception for species tulips because they sometimes go from seed to blossom in about two to three years and don’t seem to lose any momentum when they reproduce. However, if I have the time, I like to remove all but a few pods to give those bulbs and their offsets a little more punch.

The end of that. Tulip gardens in the spring can be striking and colorful with a small initial investment, rewarding you, your neighbors, and pollinator populations for years or decades to come.


  • Tulips that become perennials bloom for many years, but they may eventually go extinct. Tulips that have gone natural grow and spread.
  • By selecting perennial, proliferating tulip cultivars, you can establish a permanent, naturalizing tulip garden. The species tulips that are most prone to naturalize are the greigii, fosteriana, Darwin, and kaufmaniana tulips.
  • Tulips require well-drained soil in dryish locations that receive part sun or full sun in the early spring in order to naturalize well. An excellent garden would be located beneath a deciduous tree that doesn’t leaf out until after the tulips have finished flowering.
  • Tulips should be planted in drifts that are spaced more apart than recommended on the label in order to naturalize them. This will prevent plant competition and allow for plant growth.
  • After tulips have finished flowering, avoid trimming or mowing the foliage. Leave the leaves on bulbs until they naturally wither, allowing them to recharge for the flowers of the following year.
  • To focus the plant’s energy on the bulbs for the following year, remove the seed pods from larger tulips after the blossoms fade. Tulips of small species may be active enough to spread and proliferate simultaneously through seed and offsets.

What tulips grow best as perennials?

monarch tulips Emperor is one of the best cultivars for perennializing and is renowned for its enormous (5″) blossoms and vibrant, vivid hues (naturalizing).

How much time does it take tulips to become naturalized?

Yes, in a nutshell, is the answer to this query. Like everything else in nature, tulips have figured out a means to survive. Most flowers thrive when they spread! Even though they don’t spread quickly, once you plant a few, you will notice your beautiful blossoms growing in quantity. You’ll need to exert some effort to multiply this.

How do Tulips Spread?

Since tulips are frequently sold and purchased as bulbs, it can be unclear how these plants truly spread. Tulips can be produced from their seeds, albeit the process is significantly more difficult and time-consuming. The ellipsoid capsol, which is “a leathery covering and an ellipsoid to globe form,” contains the tulip’s seeds (Wikipedia). Tulips, however, are spread by planting or with some assistance from Mother Nature, whether they are seeds or bulbs.

Spreading Tulips from Bulbs

It will take about a year after the initial bulb is planted, which will happen in the late summer or early fall, before any “spreading” has occurred. There won’t be any baby bulbs emerging from the main tulip root until after the first bloom. Another 2 to 5 bulbs will be added. The tulips can reproduce by taking these tiny bulbs and immediately replanting them a short distance apart.

Therefore, tulip bulbs spread by producing new bulbs from the original.

Spreading Tulips from Seed

The tulip largely depends on nature for its ability to spread from the seed rather than the bulb. This has characteristics shared by practically all plant life. According to a BBC story, plants depend on animals, the wind, and water to spread their seeds.

So What Does This Mean for You?

How do we apply the fact that tulips can spread now that we know it to you? We’ll leave the sleeping seeds alone unless you’re ready to wait a few years before you see anything grow out of your tulips.

This indicates that you should not worry too much about bulbs during the first year. Simply bury your tulips approximately 8 inches deep in good soil and water them.

If you intend to treat your tulips as annuals, you also won’t need to be concerned about much spreading. It is a possibility to dig up the bulbs at the end of the year and plant new ones because many gardeners struggle to get their tulips to grow as they desire beyond the first year.

However, you should certainly make an extra effort and remove the tulip’s tips as they wilt if you want to treat them like the perennials that they are.

You can carefully dig up the roots and separate the bulbs in August. For them to survive, they must be replanted right away. For optimal results, try this once every two years or three years.