Tulips are one of the happiest harbingers of spring weather. Their teacup shaped blooms come in a rich variety of colors and textures, bold and soft, signifying the arrival of enjoyable weather and outdoor activities. Sadly, the annual lifespan of these flowers is somewhat short, and future seasons can be compromised without proper after-bloom care.
The first step in ensuring healthy, longer-lasting blooms in future years is to accept this inconvenient truth: healthy tulips need an "ugly" phase. If you’ve ever managed a bed of tulips, you'll know exactly what I mean. That lovely bowl of petals eventually opens into a flimsy, brown and bruised palette until the withered petals fall off, leaving their undignified stamen exposed. Eventually the foliage will yellow and droop to the ground until it's pruned away.
Tulips need to spend time unkempt in order to look their best next year. I know, it sounds crazy and unreasonable! Though it may seem counterintuitive, there is a scientific explanation for healthy tulips' needs. After a tulip loses its bloom, the next step in its life cycle is to create a seed pod inside that indecently exposed stamen. This process requires a large amount of energy, which is generated by a tulip's foliage. We as gardeners must therefore redirect that energy back into the bulb to be stored up for next year’s blooms. We accomplish this by pruning the dying bloom just as it begins to wilt, leaving most of the stem and the foliage for a few weeks. The photosynthesized energy from the remaining leaves now has nowhere to go but back into the bulb. A tulip's leaves turn yellow and wilt when the plant reaches its metabolic capacity.
It is crucial to leave the foliage to die back on its own in order to complete the process. They need to receive as much sunlight as possible to set themselves up for success next year. Sometimes this process can take as long as eight weeks. Then, when the leaves have died back completely, you can prune them down to the ground. Completing this life cycle will ensure stronger, more colorful blooms in the future that add irresistible appeal, and will be the envy of your flowerbed.