Tulip solution: species in the ground, hybrids in pots


These were taken out of the garage in March and have flower buds about 4-5 inches up. I think all the pots are either Prinses Irene/Passionale, or Black Hero/Orange Princess.

If you want to treat hybrid tulips as annuals—and I know that’s not for everyone—this is the easiest way to do it. No digging them out of the ground, or worrying about how to fit them in with perennials. No worrying about animals, especially voles, etc. When these finish up, the pots can be filled with summer-blooming annuals, and in the fall different tulip combos can go in. I’m sure this is exactly how the folks who are marketing flowers as fashion would play it, though no one does market tulips this way, to my knowledge.

Species are much more interesting as plants, though they have caveats too. They perennialize, pretty much, and have fascinating shapes and color variations. The only problem is that you need to plant a lot of them. I always think I have, then find that I have misunderstood bloom times and still left that one spot empty.

I took a walk down the street yesterday and saw hybrid tulips that were clearly into their 3rd or 4th years. The stems were kind of coiled along the ground, with petals splayed out where they lay. Pitiful. But I can’t give up on tulips.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. You arent’ exactly promoting low-maintenance gardening !

    Nor eco. Nor cheap.

    I prefer pots so fabulous they can remain empty.

    Planted only upon a whim if desired.

    All my clients request a garden low-maintenance, not expensive & organic.

    What is the eco impact of bulb production? Farm equipment, electricity, trucks, planes, watering, insecticides & fungicides, packaging, potting soil, employees, & etc….

    A fabulous empty pot has none of that. A centuries old idea.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. Tara- leaving the good loking pots empty – what a wonderful idea! No matter what I plant my pots look like drek by mid summer. I am going to give it a try. You have made my planting easier and cheaper!

  3. A quick question, How often do you water during winter storage in garage? Living near Ann Arbor, Michigan do you think this would be possible in our area? THANK YOU for such a GREAT garden blog !!!!

  4. @Tara there is a difference between liking plants and liking the idea of plants. Your clients are obviously the latter sort of people.

  5. Gerry, I water them when I plant them in September and once again in March. Not even sure they need that. Once I take then out, I water them more frequently but, again, I wonder if I am watering more than they need. 1st time bulbs are so self-sufficient.

    Tara, I do not pretend to be low-maintenance or cheap. (well, not cheap in terms of gardening.) As for “eco,” the bulbs can be composted after, just like anything else.

  6. Don’t most of those “fabulous to look at” pots come from Italy or Viet Nam? Can’t be too economical to get them here which must explain the exhorbitant prices.

  7. I had wonderful success this year planting all my bulbs in pots as it was deep winter before I had time to pot.
    Then I decided to keep the tulip pots in a sunny enclosed-porch where they have remained blooming for almost a month and are pristine. Watering regularly is all I’ve done. I understand the bulbs can be lifted at end of bloom, left out to dry, then replanted as usual.
    This is a great solution when wanting tulips with deer right outside the door!
    When I find out how to enclose a photo I’ll send it in.
    Thanks for your timely post.

  8. Chris the bulbs can be lifted after the foliage dies back naturally, or you can pop the plants in a sunny spot in your garden after they bloom, but the bulb needs to be nourished by the leaves. A little bulb fertiliser wouldn’t hurt either. There are very good online tutorials about how to care for bulbs. This unattractive phase is why many gardeners shy away from using bulbs. I like to tuck them inbetween and under things that leaf out later. That way the yellowing foliage is hidden.

  9. All this Eco talk is sucking the joy out of most things. Stop already. Didn’t you have a mother or grandmother who used common sense? Moderation works too. As for watering pots, I tried adding succulents to pots so that later in the season when my watering energies have been taxed, the succulents continue.
    My garden brings such enjoyment and good exercise as well as admiration from my neighbors. I try to encourage anyone who shows interest to plant and enjoy the outdoors. Nancy

  10. I have planted tulips in pots many times. I plant fall pansies on top. In spring, the pansies come back to fill out the pot, the tulips come thru and everything is beautiful until its time to put annuals in the pots in May. As for cost, go for the bargain bags of bulbs because you still need lots to make a show.
    Baltimore is in full tulip bloom right now. I have a few pictures on my blog.


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