Tulip question

Asked May 5, 2017, 6:39 PM EDT

My red and yellow tulips have been in my yard so long, I now have orange and variegated colored flowers. Last year and again this year the plants are not doing so well. I have perhaps half of the flowers I did last year. The leaves have gotten so long. I always let the foliage die back. I have wondered if perhaps I should cut them back half way this year. Help!!

Hennepin County Minnesota

1 Response

Thank you for the question. I assume you have standard hybrid tulips and not the smaller more naturalized wild looking species tulips. Hybrid tulips will only produce blooms for a period of 3-4 years. Many gardeners treat them like annuals and plant fresh bulbs every fall in order to have a reliable display year after year. If yours have been in place for many years and you had blossoms prior to this, you were lucky! The bulbs expend so much energy blooming that they are unable to completely "recharge" and the plants and blooms get smaller. Underground, there may be new little bulbs forming but it would take many years for them to reach the size of those we buy in garden centers.
Tulips can change color due to light, moisture, and soil fertility issues as well as viruses. Your best bet is to get rid of what you have and start over with fresh bulbs. Remember, or best results, plant them in full sun, well drained soil, 6-8 inches deep and fertilize properly for repeat shows. Read more here: