Tulips - How to Prune Tulips
Tulips, like virtually all flowering plants, will at some point lose their blooms. The petals (called perianths) become brown as they decay. Unlike some flowering plants, however, caring for tulips is simplicity itself.
Often treated like an annual, it's possible to do nothing at all and simply let nature takes its course. First the flowers will wilt and die, then a few weeks to a couple of months later the leaves will become yellow or brown and also fade. If the gardener has no intention of helping the plant regenerate the following spring no action is needed.
In that case, most tulips will not come back after winter. If they do, they will typically produce flowers that are much smaller and stalks that are shorter and less robust. Even those that do come back for a year or two will usually produce smaller and fewer flowers if nothing is done to assist them.
Some tulip types are more like perennials and will produce blooms year after year for several growing seasons. Species Tulips are a category that are derived from wild tulips. True wild tulips obviously need no help to come back year after year, as they have in the mountainous regions of Central Asia for centuries.
But most tulips have developed after at least some human intervention and have been engineered specifically to emulate the growth patterns of these wild flowers. Greigii Tulips like Cape Cod and Red Riding Hood are two examples. But to reach their full potential there are several steps that should be taken at the right time.
A day to a few days at most after the flower has wilted, it's helpful to deadhead them. That can be done either by pinching the tip off with the finger and thumb or by using pruning shears to snip off the ends.
Cut down about an inch from the top. The goal is to remove the seed pod that develops after the bloom has faded. If the seed pod is allowed to grow unhindered it uses starches and energy that would otherwise be conserved by the bulb. Pruned tulips give the bulb the maximum potential for recreating healthy flowers the following spring, since it retains the maximum sugars and energy, with none used to create new seeds.
The same procedure isn't required for leaves or stalk, however. The decaying tulip leaves don't leave behind any residual that would consume food or energy that would otherwise be used by the bulb. The stalks will also decay, albeit more slowly. To make the garden look tidy, it's alright to snip the dead stalk off near the ground.
The tulip then enters a phase in fall when the bulb will regenerate a dense root system. Several types will do this well with no assistance, such as the Greigii's mentioned above. Dreamboat, Für Elise, Lady Diana, Toronto and many more can continue to re-bloom for several years with proper pruning.
Kaufmanniana or Water Lily Tulips are another long-lived perennial that can last for years. Concerto, Heart's Delight, Goudstuk and Love Song are only a few of the more popular varieties.