Life is short. Plant tulips.

This might be Creme Upstar, though not double enough.

Nothing lasts forever. Beauty is fleeting. You’re heard these hackneyed sayings many times. But maybe this year they’re worth taking a little more seriously. Maybe the past few months have provided further compelling emphasis that it can all be taken away—just like that.

My big time to plan for a brief few weeks of beauty in the garden comes now, at bulb-planting season. And, no, I don’t care that hybrid tulips falter after two–three years—I don’t expect mine to remain even that long. Every year, I fill big containers with various hybrid tulips and stash them in the garage until April. Then they come out and get placed where they’ll have the best impact, close to the house. This, you will surmise, keeps them away from bulb-eating creatures, though it’s not my main concern. Tulips look best in tight, colorful groups, not scattered about or—worse—lined up, and I don’t care to have the big hybrids cluttering up my perennial beds (though I’ve softened on that and they are creeping in).

As I often forget which ones I’ve put in which pots, it’s always fun to watch them come up and see what mixtures work and which do not. I also have them in equally crowded circular raised beds, where they are replaced by big tropicals for the summer.

I wrote about this here.

The big question is what to do after they bloom. I should add that this is a big question for others, not for me. I have to get my summer annuals into those pots, so the tulips have to fade away into the compost. Bye, tulips: I’m done with you until next year.  Well, at least until August, anyway, when my new bulb catalogs arrive and I try to find interesting varieties I’ve not tried yet.

Judging from what I’m seeing on social media, many more gardeners are turning to bulbs; I see a lot of newbie questions and the usual amount of bizarre advice. I also saw this, on the Brent and Becky’s website: Due to an unprecedented volume of orders that we have been receiving, we have suspended accepting any new orders until Tuesday, October 6th. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

That tells you something.

Welcome, unprecedented bulb buyers! I hope you get as much enjoyment from your fleeting weeks of beauty as I do.

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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


  1. Even in Texas we can have tulips if we can find enough space in the refrigerator to store them for two months before planting. I have been doing this for years. I mostly put them in the ground to grow and bloom, close together, and I don’t do anything about them afterward; they mostly disappear on their own. Once in a while leaves will come up the next year, but no blooms. I consider them annuals. And I cut a good many to bring inside. They have done consistently well except for one year, when I kept them out of refrigeration too long before planting AND we had record heavy rains and flooding shortly afterward. Otherwise, I have had consistent success with single lates, Darwin hybrids, lily-flowered, Triumph, and single early varieties. (Not successful with doubles & haven’t tried Parrots.)

  2. Well, I gave up on tulips long ago. You’re lucky the critters leave them alone near your house. In my rural area, the deer are not shy. If the deer don’t eat the tulips, the chipmunks and squirrels eat the bulbs! But – I rejoice in daffodils of all shapes and sizes, which are rarely attacked by animals and even survive late spring snowstorms!

    • That’s the choice I make too. Daffs come back and multiply forever. Tulips only one year and that’s if no one finds them before spring.

  3. I have to say I’d be pretty bored if I had to settle for the limited color range of daffs. Wire or plastic netting tacked down keeps bulbs from squirrels and chipmunks. And there are lots of deer remedies, but you have to put the repetitive work in, and I can understand why many would not.

  4. This year I‘ve ordered dozens of tulip bulbs to plant this fall. I will celebrate their appearance after a cold WNY winter. If they never appear again, no big deal. I’ve never tried netting, just tons of minced garlic. Works well for me. But a spring without tulips? Never.

  5. I love the JOY tulips bring me and others in the spring. In Toronto Ontario I have the same good success with all the types that Carolyn in Austin has tried, plus most do bloom again for several years before they need dividing or disappear. They are so worth the sweat equity required to plant them (just got a kneeler assist device this year) and they start the spark of HOPE that will see me through this winter. Thanks for your tulips in pots idea, Elizabeth; if it can work in Buffalo, it can work in Toronto!

  6. When I moved to my current house in Maryland 30 years ago there were two small patches of red tulips that have returned gloriously each year since and have expanded their territory. I top dress them with compost in the fall, and also in the spring, as soon as I see green leaves. I think one reason they do well is that they are not in a flower bed with other plants that get watered in the summer. They prefer dry soil when dormant. Too much water can cause the bulbs to rot. They like to get 6 hours of sun (it helps that there are not so many leaves on the trees to block sunlight in spring). Do not cut the leaves until they are no longer green so there is time to store energy in the bulbs. Bulb catalogs or some searching online can tell you which varieties are most likely to be hardy and return every year.

  7. Can somebody advise me: since I hate dealing with waiting for the doggone foliage to die back, I would like to try planting tulips close to the front of my house — Dutch Colonial — in the dry area that is under the roof overhang, hence quite dry in the summer. I figure if they are far back, perennials in front will help hide the foliage. Good idea? Bad idea?

  8. I’ve got a bunch of daffodils on order from Brent etc, but having bought excruciatingly disappointing perennials from them, I’m worried. Having all of this year’s tulips eaten by critters, am only purchasing cheap tulip bulbs locally at a discount store.

  9. Species variety tulips best for pollinators……….

    Hearing Doug Tallamy it’s ingrained, no dead food/pollinator zones in my choice of plants.

    Sure, regrets not learning sooner. In recompense, I know better…. do better.

    Plants, soil, pollinators, people, hope you’ve already come across: “Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental thinker and activist, a leader in the International Forum on Globalisation, and of the Slow Food Movement. Director of Navdanya and of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and a tireless crusader for farmers’, peasants’, and women’s rights, she is the author and editor of a score of influential books, among them Making Peace with the Earth; Soil Not Oil; Globalization’s New Wars; Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard; and Who Really Feeds the World?. Her latest book is Oneness vs the 1% (Chelsea Green Publishing, August 2020).”

  10. is your garage attached or heated in any way? mine is unattached, and so it gets as cold as the out of doors basically. Would this work for me in zone 5b with an unheated garage?


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