It wouldn’t be spring without them

T. acuminata
T. acuminata

Gardeners give up on tulips for good reasons. They’re prime deer food, coming at a time at the end of winter when I suppose the creatures are extra hungry. The hybrids don’t reliably perennialize, generally faltering and disappearing after two or three years. The foliage is unattractive as it ages, and you have to have other plants emerging to take over when the tulips are gone in late spring. Finally, a big part of the US doesn’t have the cold winters needed for the dormancy period of these and many other bulbs.

IMG_1204When I started gardening seriously about sixteen years ago, however, tulips were a prime objective, and that hasn’t changed. Luckily, deer have not yet ventured into the part of urban Buffalo where I live, and I’ve found ways to get around the other issues with tulips.

T. clusiana var stellata
T. clusiana var stellata

The small, wildflower-like species tulips tend to return each year and, in most cases, their foliage is minimal. I also like the gregii varieties, which have big, variegated leaves, which are nearly as interesting as the flowers.

I plant hybrids in big pots in fall and bring them out of the garage in April. These don’t take up space in the beds and make a better impact. I don’t have to worry about their longevity because I treat them as

The big groups of hybrids I do plant in the ground get pulled out and composted. They never look as good in successive years as they do the first year.

Tulips (and other spring flowers) are the first and last chance I have to have a pop of color in my front garden, which is shaded by huge maples all summer. It gets limited after that.  When the cherry tree sheds its flowers and the tulips subside, that’s pretty much it. But it’s worth it.

Previous articleGrowing Popularity of Gardening in DC
Next articleSaving Spiders
Elizabeth Licata

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


  1. I’m also a big fan of tulips in the spring. Like you I tend to treat them as annuals and am surprised to see the hybrids a second, third or even more years after planting.

    My species tulips, however, have persisted and spread. Last year I apparently forgot to deadhead some of them and they showed up in my neighbor’s lawn. Oops. I did not expect tulips to spread by seed!

  2. Plant tulips deeper than you normally would and cut the flower heads off after the petals drop, and they’ll come back for at least four or five years. At least mine do.

  3. I love tulips so much, and yours look so beautiful. We put them first time this year. Although we could enjoy the flowering for a short time only – about a week or two, still it was worth it. I did as you said – cut off the flowers, and hope to see them once again next year.

  4. Beautiful image of those darwin hybrid tulips! We actually just did a blog about this topic as well..The botanical and darwin tulips are indeed the best picks for re-blooming 🙂

Comments are closed.