The 2019 Tulips

A few days ago I drove to Metamora to see a client. For those of you not in my area, it took over an hour and a half to make the trip out and back. I only saw tulips blooming in one place that entire trip.  A group of 30 or so bright peach tulips outside a business were easy to spot, even though I was driving 55mph. They looked glorious.  Nearer to my client’s property, miles on a country gravel roads, I saw nary a one. How disappointing, given that we are coming up on peak tulip season. There are so many species and groups from which to choose. A smattering of every class of tulip could keep a gardener in tulips for 6 weeks or better. But planting tulips has been in decline in our area for quite some time.

I am sympathetic to gardeners who are having to deal with exploding populations of deer. They are incredibly destructive to landscapes and gardens alike. They can mow down an emerging collection of tulips in no time at all. Once the flower bud has been eaten off, that is it. No secondary bloom stalk and bud will replace the first. To see them destroyed is frustrating. It will be a year before there is an opportunity for a second chance.  I would guess that declining tulip planting is in direct proportion to increasing deer populations. We have them at the shop, even though we are in an urban area. The vacant field next door is hardly what I would call a friendly habitat for deer.

We do drench the young tulips from the time they break ground with Deer Scram or Liquid Fence.  We have a number of deer repellent sprays, and we alternate them. We also fortify the perimeter of the bed with Plant Skydd. I find that deer repellents work, as long as we are possessed with applying it often and consistently. Of course this is a nuisance and an expense – but less so than the prospect of no tulips. Every tulip that came up is either in bloom, or about to bloom.

The first year following a fall planting of tulips is always the best. We plant number one grade bulbs that have been patiently grown on to that size by growers in Holland. A number one grade bulb results in a number one grade flower. A tulip bulb will divide itself after the first year. A smaller grade bulb produces smaller flowers, and in many cases, no flowers at all. So yes, a planting of tulips is not a forever planting, unless you limit your choice to the early flowering species tulips that are known for their persistence. If you should decide to defy nature, and provide optimum conditions for a repeat bloom the following spring, the foliage must be left intact until it completely matures. This can take a month or more. The process of photosynthesis enables the bulb to store food for next year’s flowers.

The length of flowering has everything to do with the weather. A warm spring means a brief flowering period. A long cool spring means the flowers will last longer. This is true for every spring flowering bulb or ephemeral. Unlike the crocus, or the double bloodroot, who have been known to bloom and drop their petals over the course of one day, there will be that moment when the tulip flowers are perfectly glorious. That moment of great beauty is not much different in duration than the lilacs, peonies, redbuds, dogwoods and magnolias-brief, but so sweet.

Tulips come in a wide range of colors.  Just about every color, with the exception of blue. Gardeners in my zone who value blue is the spring have to content themselves with forget me nots, brunnera, lobelia, nigella and delphinium, among others. Choosing a collection of colors and succession of bloom can be a lengthy process, as there are so many possibilities. The flowers are large and striking, to say the least. This means they may not play well with other plants whose flowers are not so large or spectacularly showy. They can be tiresome in their demand for attention. In much the same way as peonies, delphiniums, lilies, hibiscus-you get the drift.

I have tried to dispassionately cover all of the reasons why not to plant tulips, but I would not dream of not having them myself. From the time they emerge from the newly thawed soil to the bloom a month later, their rapid growth is an enchanting process to watch. The leaves are beautiful in volume and form. Newly opened tulip flowers grow larger with every passing day. They brave the wind, cold temperatures and the occasional spring snow with aplomb. Even the tallest varieties stand upright without assistance. They make terrific and long lasting cut flowers, given a cool spot indoors. The variations in flower and leaf form, height, color and bloom time make them one of the most versatile of all spring flowering plants.

I plant a collection of tulips at the shop every year. This moment has been many months in coming, and is so welcome after a long drab winter.  A lot of pictures get taken. Parents photograph their children with them in the background, and friends who come to shop do the same. I never see anyone walk by them without taking a good look.

The bloom is just about at it peak moment, should you be inclined to take a look. As for the trouble it takes to get to this moment, none of that interferes with the experience. Did I mention that fresh spring fragrance?

stunning, this.




  1. Donna Thibodeau says

    Deer ate all my tulips. I don’t have to wait another year because they ate all the foliage and the bulb will disappear. Some I had for over 20 years. I also use all those repellants but didn’t get out in time. Rabbits eat the crocus. Our habitat is now shared with wildlife. I depend on daffodils and hyacinth for trusty spring color. I love tulips!

    • Dianne Young says

      Donna, I would suggest that you could plant some tulips in containers if you have a place to overwinter them, like an unheated garage, but my sister tried that, and the deer actually came up on her porch and ate those tulips, too!

  2. Bill Bird says

    Deborah: Thank you for the beautiful pictures of the tulips at Detroit Garden Works and the information in your post. We too, struggle with deer and tulips…gardening has its challenges. If you have the time to drive here to Holland, Michigan, we are at the hight of our Tulip Time Festival. The city and surrounding area are bursting with beds of tulips. Google it if you would like to, you will enjoy pictures of the glorious fields of tulips as well as smaller spaces filled with this colorful spring flower.

  3. Lorelei Stinson says

    Deborah, your recent post about tulips was so lovely that I just had to comment. I too love this spring time flower but like many have stopped planting it becase of the plethera of rabbits and squirrels in our area . My spring bulb of choice has been the daffodil in all forms. However your words have given me food for thought – perhaps I will re-attemp tulips next year – i miss my angelique .tulips most ?…..t. But,

  4. I love the color combo this season, kudos for this choice!

  5. sharon prokosch says


  6. So so beautiful and one of my best flowers. Do tulips do well in Florida? Orlando to be specific.

    • Dianne Young says

      Tulips require a number of hours of chilling temperatures, as in their native climes. You can buy tulip bulbs that have been “pre-chilled” to plant in warmer zones like yours, but most varieties will not rebloom a second year. Even as far north as Arkansas, tulips are treated more like annuals. You would likely have to plant new bulbs each fall to have reliable blooms. I am staying with my son in Durham, North Carolina right now. They have pulled out all of the tulips and pansies from the flower beds here and planted summer annuals that can take the heat. This next fall, they will plant new pre-chilled tulips to bloom the following spring, because the winter temperatures do not stay reliably cold enough for new tulip flowers to form in last year’s bulbs.

    • Lynn Taggart says

      I’m afraid all of the spring-flowering bulbs require winter dormancy – in other words, winter.

  7. I am fortunate to not have deer (a 6′ fence in town and a 130-lb dog) but I do have voles & ground squirrels. I planted ‘Spring Green’ tulips in large baskets, fashioned from chicken wire, and they bloomed beautifully in this cool, damp spring. I really wanted crocuses, so I sunk them in terracotta pots and covered them in wire mesh over the winter. They, too, bloomed beautifully. But for the most part I stick with narcissus in all its forms. Your tulip display is awesome, Deborah! Thanks for taking the time to create it – and to share it with us.

  8. Stunning. Thank you for this post. We relocated to zone 9a in FL after living 50+ years in Chicago/Cleveland. I gave up on tulips long ago in the Midwest. But your post has brought the thrill and the smell of spring almost as vividly as being there. Thank you so much. Happy spring.

  9. Christine Clement says

    Yes tulips are worth the show. I am down to a dozen, the rest have been eaten by the deer despite the sprays. So now I only plant daffodils. The range of colors can’t compare, but some early color is better than none.

  10. Jennifer says

    I too switched to daffs and hyacinths in my client gardens as I’m not there every night to spray. In my own garden I still have tulips and sprayed nightly. Our biggest culprit(s) here is a gang of older ladies who walk the neighborhood daily with plastic bags and scissors, cutting our tulips!

  11. That is quite a Keukenhof you have going on there in your front yard, Deborah! I was tempted to plant some myself when I viewed the website of the tulip bulb provider that Martha Stewart uses – this company does a great job mixing and matching for color and structure. Sadly, the deer and squirrel population where my mid Michigan garden is makes that impossible. I have had some success with drifts of ‘Thalia’ daffodils that naturalize really well. Since my garden has a white color scheme I don’t mind. But now that I read your description of tulips, I am tempted to just try them for next year …

  12. Cindy Coghill says

    Thanks for the deer tips. Suburbia has become a haven for deer here in Columbus, Ohio, and they nipped nearly all of my tulips very early on. The few they missed were splendid, but with the combination of deer and the fact that they often don’t repeat bloom, it is hard to justify a limited garden budget with this expense. But, I do agree, there is nothing like the tulip for spring color and beauty.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cindy, Rob says the tulips are a party one throws for their spring garden. Love that description. It is not easy to garden, and every gardener gets to choose what battles they want to wage. That said, my urban garden at home is not populated with deer. all the best, Deborah

  13. Red tulips….nothing can beat that in the Spring. Enjoyed yours today. I stopped growing tulips due to the deer. I have hundreds of daffodils now to give me Spring color. I had enjoyed the angelique and parrot tulips. I live in the country with many deer that practically live in our yard in a woodland. Perhaps I will have to fence in an area and plant tulips again. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful bed of tulips.

  14. Well virtually none of my tulips I planted two years ago came up this year. And after reading this I’m going to give up on tulips. Other than Daffodils/Jonquils what hearty, tall standing spring flowers are there to plant?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joni, I am sorry you are giving up on tulips. There is nothing else like them in the spring garden. I hope you reconsider. Perhaps this will provide a little perspective. You could treat your tulips like spring annuals. Like you do your summer annuals. For sure it is less expensive to plant the bulbs, than buy tulips as cut flowers in the spring. best, Deborah

      • Good point Deborah…..I will work on naturalizing daffodils and tulips as “annuals” sniffle. You’re the best. PLUS thanks to all the comments, as I am writing down what alternative plantings others have done.

  15. I went allium crazy last fall (500 assorted) and it appears have paid off.
    I also planted assorted naturalizing bulbs in my woodland setting.
    Will look at more this fall.
    Tulips will be purchased cut in the spring!

    • Dianne K. Young says

      Daisy, if you like daffodils, many varieties are great for naturalizing. They are fine in deciduous woodland settings. They get enough sun to bloom before the leaves develop on the trees. I have planted several large installations of daffodils, even at the edges of my large yard where deer tend to cross, and they never touch them. The deer seem to know that daffodils are poisonous to them. I’ve never seen so much as a nibble on any of the flowers or leaves. The rabbits leave them alone, too, which further encourages my plantings.

  16. Joyce Baekr says

    Not to say I am happy to know all of you have deer problems, but misery loves company, so I now know not only the south has deer that love flowers. They walk my neighborhood feeding during the morning, not moving with traffic passing.

    The only flower I have been able to grow without deer eating is Lantana.

  17. Your tulips are gorgeous!
    We’ll see them this weekend- traveling to visit Aunt Teedie for Mother’s Day.

  18. Mary Sue Ewing says

    Yes, we stopped planting tulips ( with great sadness) for three years. We erected a deer fence which worked well for another 3 years until the varmints started crashing through in desperation for our fat and delicious tulips.
    Next season will be vigilant on the deer proofing.
    As always thank you for your beautiful and educational post.
    Mary Sue Ewing

  19. Dianne young says

    I used to live near Metamora and currently live in rural area west of Mt. Pleasant. As several others have noted, we have stopped planting tulips because the deer overpopulation is so troublesome. Also squirrels, rabbits, and other rodents eat tulips, either as bulbs, or they nip off the tender flower heads before they even have a chance to open. I gave up on crocus, too, because of the deer, chipmunks, squirrels and voles. We choose to grow organic, which means we have to compromise with the animals who pass through our rural yard between neighboring woods. I plant more & more daffodil varieties, as well as alliums, and any other bulbs that are naturally poisonous or distasteful, that the deer and rabbits avoid, in order to have the bright spring colors that I crave. Deer are also mowing down yews and other shrubbery in suburban yards in their quest for food in winter, especially by March & April when the deer are starving. There are fewer game hunters, even in northern areas, to cull the herds, and not enough predator animals like coyotes and wolves anymore to keep the deer herds in balance. It’s a huge problem for landscapers, farmers and gardeners out here in the hinterlands! But that’s why you don’t see many tulips!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dianne, I only want to point out that most deer and rabbit repellents are concocted from entirely natural materials. Plant Skydd is blood based. It is not poisonous.The odor is a repellent. We also plant our tulip bulbs fairly deep – 6-8 inches below ground. This is a deterrent to small rodents. The later the tulips come up the better. By mid April, there are lots of things to eat-and not just tulips. best regards, Deborah

  20. Linda McNally says

    We have deer, but, my biggest culprits are the chipmunks, squeegees and squirrels. They love bulbs. They’ll leave Daffodils alone, but, not yummy tulips. That and the foliage left for so long when I’m desperate for space and planting in a timely manner for the spring and summer seasons. Tulips are wonderful, though!!!

  21. I adore tulips but had basically given up years ago because of the chipmunks. I did plant some last fall and am enjoying the very much but I generally put my money on daffodils! I live in a very rural area and just recently started getting deer damage, but they haven’t found the tulips yet – probably too busy destroying the promise of hydrangea blooms again…

  22. What combination of tulips did you use in your garden? It is beautiful!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lauren, I planted Salmon Impression, Pink Impression, Lightning Sun, and the lily flowered varietes Ballerina and Mariette. all the best,Deborah

  23. Suji Wong says

    Hi Deborah,
    I planted tulips & allium in pots left on my patio. I was away over winter & on return in early May found all bulbs had decayed in the pots. Too much moisture. Have you a solution? How can I assure better drainage or am I at the mercy of a snowy/rainy winter & spring!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suji, there is plenty of detailed info on line about how to successfully winter over bulbs in pots. The pots have to be kept in a very cold but frost free spot. Left outdoors, the bulbs can freeze solid – through and through. Having been completely frozen, the bulbs will rot once the temperature warms up. An unheated garage is a great spot for the pots over the winter. best, Deborah

  24. I love the color mix, what a fantastic display nestled in between the hedge. Tulips are a celebration of spring that I can’t imagine being without.

  25. Carol deLuca says

    IF you don’t live in deer country, you’ll have most tulip luck with the Emperor series or the Darwin Hybrids. Squirrels will usually leave the crocus tommasinianus alone. The best flowering daff is the Ice Follies, so said the guy who wrote the 2 volume book on bulbs. S’all I know.

  26. Eileen Ripp-Emerson says

    While this looks great now in Spring, do you pull the bulbs out to add Summer plantings?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Eileen, yes, we treat the tulips as annuals. We pull them out, and compost them. best, Deborah

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