Tulips are one of the most beloved spring flowers, and with good reason. They're available in so many colors, sizes, and forms, in addition to being easy to grow. While many think of them as being perennial and coming back year after year, that's not always the case. A lot depends on which type of tulips you're growing.
Are Tulips Perennials?
The short answer is: sometimes tulips are perennial. And sometimes, tulips are best treated as an annual.
The longer (and more helpful!) answer is that which types of tulips you're growing makes a difference, as does your climate.
Tulips are native to central Asia, a climate that has cold winters and hot summers. So, your chances of growing tulips as perennials has a lot to do with where you live. If you live in a warmer climate, the bulbs will bloom for a year, maybe two, but then start fading. They need at least 10 weeks of cold weather to bloom and grow well.
But climate is only part of the equation. The other part is growing the right type of tulips.
Best Choices for Perennial Tulips
There are a few types of tulips that are reliably perennial if you live in an area where tulips grow well (usually a place colder than Zone 7). A good tip is to look for tulips that are labeled as "species tulips" or "good for naturalizing," because these are varieties that not only return reliably every year, but also often produce bulblets so you have even more tulip blooms later on.
These are probably the most popular and widely grown type of tulip worldwide. They produce large blooms in nearly every color and grow to about 20 inches tall, making them wonderful as a cut flower as well, since they last for a decent amount of time in a vase. They typically bloom sometime between mid-April and mid-May. Some popular Darwin tulips include:
- 'Apricot Impression'
- 'Burning Heart'
- 'Golden Apeldoorn'
- 'Olympic Flame' (pictured above)
Greigii tulips usually bloom in early to mid-spring and produce single, bowl-shaped blooms. They bloom in red, yellow, or white and have attractive striped or spotted leaves. Because they're a shorter type, growing only eight to 10 inches tall, they're a good option for planting near the front of a garden bed, and are an excellent option for potted tulips.
Popular greigii tulips include:
- 'Calypso' (pictured above)
- 'Fur Elise'
- 'Red Riding Hood'
Triumph tulips produce single, bowl-shaped flowers on sturdy stems that grow from 10 to 24 inches tall, depending on the variety. They bloom in early to mid-spring, and are available in a wide range of colors, including bicolors with flame or striped appearances.
Popular varieties of Triumph tulips include:
- 'Rembrandt's Favorite' (pictured above)
- 'Jan Reus'
Additional Tips for Perennial Tulips
After choosing the right type, you'll want to make sure you're planting tulips in the right place. A spot in full sun (preferably with afternoon shade if you live in Zones 7 or warmer) is the best spot for tulips. They should be planted in well-draining, fertile soil. Finally, be sure to leave the foliage on the plant until it yellows and withers; it's essential for helping the bulb store enough energy to bloom the following spring.