Updated/Fact-Chacked on April 11, 2023 by John
If you are like me, you are currently popping out in the garden to see if your tulips are coming into bloom. Though most of my bulbs planted last November are showing, some of the tulips planted in the previous years don’t seem to have survived. Remembering where you planted them is another matter.
The term ‘perennial’ means the plant will grow back for more than two years, but some plants can still be short-lived and die after the third year if the conditions are not adequate.
Technically, all tulips are perennial in their natural habitat (Central Asia) and will return each year. In the UK climate, only certain varieties will reliably rebloom each year. See our list below of the top hardy perennial tulips to buy.
Tulips are botanically considered perennial in their natural habitat. Many sellers will avoid the whole issue of stating they are perennial. I recently bought a mix of spring bulbs on offer from Sainsbury’s supermarket – there is no mention if they will come back next year. Not great information for the average beginner gardener. Even these bulbs from my local nursery have very little information.
Types of tulips
There are 150 species of tulips and 3000 varieties in total; some of these will act like hardy perennials in the UK climate, and many will not grow back in the second year.
Tulip sellers generally group the bulbs into fifteen categories, though true botanists would group them by species and cultivar.
See below for the tulip groups that will rebloom every year i.e. perennial tulips in a UK climate.
Where are tulips from?
Tulips are found in the wild throughout southeast Europe, Central Asia and as far east as Mongolia and northwest China. The mountains of Central Asia are considered tulips’ centre of diversity, the origin of the Tulipa genus.
We can understand tulips’ ideal climate by examining the climate in their Central Asian habitat. The Pair-Alay mountain range of Central Asia is known for its long hot summers and cold winters.
Perfect temperatures for tulip naturalisation
Ideal conditions for tulips in Central Asia include cool temperatures, ample sunlight, and well-draining soil. Cold winters aid in flower development, while spring temperate of 55-65°F (13-18°C) encourage growth.
Tulips need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily and are slightly acidic to neutral soil pH (6.0-7.0) for optimal health and vibrant blooms.
If you can match all these conditions, most tulips will rebloom the following year – unfortunately, in the UK, we don’t have long enough cold spells or long sunny days regularly.
Treating tulips as annuals
I’ve decided to treat tulips as annuals this season, switching them out with dahlias. As dahlias do not survive winter, the tubers can be dug up and stored over winter for the next season, when all my tulips have finished flowering.
Tips to help tulips come back
Tulips can often not flower in the second season or produce small flower heads. The trick is to get as much energy as possible into the bulb after it has flowered.
- Deadhead the tulip flowers once they start to fade
- Leave the foliage for around 1 month to allow the plant to make food for the bulb for the following season.
If you have a variety you really love, you could lift the bulbs and store them in a warm place. Keeping the bulbs in dry storage mimics the Central Asian long dry summers. Tulip bulbs require some water, but a lot of heavy rain will weaken the bulb.
Top hardy perennial tulip varieties
If you don’t want to treat them as annuals and want value for money, buy tulips in one of these groups: Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Greigii Tulips, Kaufmanniana Tulips, Viridiflora Tulips, or Species Tulips. Darwin Hybrid tulips are considered perennial, but even this variety needs a very sunny, dry position to bloom in the third year.
I have created a table with perennial tulip varieties in each group, along with the flowering time. Look up some of these tulips and see which ones you like.
Perennial Tulip Varieties and Flowering Times
|Darwin Hybrid Tulips||Apeldoorn||Mid to late spring|
|Golden Apeldoorn||Mid to late spring|
|Parade||Mid to late spring|
|Pink Impression||Mid to late spring|
|Daydream||Mid to late spring|
|Greigii Tulips||Casa Grande||Early to mid-spring|
|Red Riding Hood||Early to mid-spring|
|Oratorio||Early to mid-spring|
|Plaisir||Early to mid-spring|
|Festival||Early to mid-spring|
|Kaufmanniana Tulips||Ancilla||Early spring|
|Heart’s Delight||Early spring|
|Johann Strauss||Early spring|
|Giuseppe Verdi||Early spring|
|Viridiflora Tulips||China Town||Late spring|
|Spring Green||Late spring|
|Golden Artist||Late spring|
|Flaming Spring Green||Late spring|
|Species Tulips||Tulipa turkestanica||Early spring|
|Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’||Mid-spring|
|Tulipa humilis ‘Alba Coerulea Oculata’||Mid-spring|
|Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’||Mid-spring|
Some of the Viridiflora Tulips are from Sarah Raven’s ‘super perennial collection‘. As Sarah testifies:
“I’ve now had all three reappearing at Perch Hill for over ten years and for tulips that’s pretty remarkable, and they do fine in the sun or shade.“
-Tulip ‘Spring Green’
The other option is to buy species tulips, also called botanical tulips. These are totally different from the large cultivars synonymous with tulips, but these plants are much more reliable to return every year.
Cultivar tulips are selectively bred for specific, ornamental traits, resulting in diverse and unique appearances, while species tulips are naturally occurring, often more resilient, and typically display simpler, more modest blooms.
Species tulips also naturalise when planted; they’ll multiply each year.
Check out some of these species tulips on GW.
Perennial Tulips FAQs
Can you leave tulip bulbs in the ground all year?
Yes, tulip bulbs can be left in the ground all year in the UK. Tulips are perennial plants, meaning they will return and bloom for several years if the conditions are suitable. However, some tulip varieties may not perform as well over time, so it’s important to choose perennial tulip varieties to ensure they return.
Do tulip bulbs multiply in the ground?
Tulip bulbs multiply in the ground by producing smaller bulbs called offsets, which grow around the parent bulb. This process is called naturalising. If the conditions are right and the bulbs are healthy, they will multiply and create larger clumps of tulips over time. According to Dutchgrown.com, Jumbo Darwin, Red Impression, Apeldoorn’s Elite, Jumbo Cherry and Golden Parade, all have the potential to multiply well.
How do I know if my tulips are annual or perennial?
While tulips are naturally perennial, some hybrid varieties behave more like annuals, providing just one or two seasons of blooms. To determine if your tulips are perennial, research the specific variety you have planted. Perennial tulip varieties tend to be species tulips or those from the Darwin Hybrid group. See the table above.
Can I save my tulip bulbs for next year?
Yes, you can save tulip bulbs for next year. Lifting and storing your tulip bulbs will create much drier conditions and give you a better chance of them flowering the following season.
After the tulips have finished blooming and the foliage has died back, carefully dig up the bulbs, clean off any excess soil, and let them dry in a well-ventilated area. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark, and dry place, such as a garage or shed, in a breathable container like a paper bag or mesh bag until you’re ready to plant them again in the autumn.
Do potted tulips come back?
Potted tulips can come back if they are cared for properly. After the tulips have finished blooming, continue to water and care for them until the foliage dies back. Then, allow the bulbs to dry out and remove them from the pot. Store them as you would for bulbs in the ground, and replant them in fresh potting soil in the autumn.
Alpine varieties like Tulipa turkestanica do much better in posts.
How many years do tulips come back?
Tulips can come back and bloom for several years if they are well-cared for and of a perennial variety. However, the number of years they return may vary based on factors such as soil quality, climate, and the specific variety. Species tulips and Darwin Hybrid tulips typically have the longest lifespan, often returning for up to five years or more.
Gareth is the owner of Plantsman Media. Gareth lives in the North East of England and is obsessed with flowers. He has just started RHS level 2 certification.