Oh Deer, Why So Many Tulips?

Tulips are one of the spring bulbs that came with my garden,


but there were years when I wasn’t sure how I felt about them, the red ones that is. They had been planted along with the usual suspects: grape hyacinth and yellow daffodils. These three types of bulbs are sold as a package deal every year at the nurseries and every year I wonder why. I find it unnerving when these colors come up together in the spring. They seem so out of place. This is when the season’s light is still at an angle and most flowers are blooming in pinks, purples and white.

The last time I wrote about color was in a previous post of mine Seeing Red? I don’t mean to pick on the color red. The truth is it’s a favorite of mine. There are just certain times of the year (OK, really just in the spring) when it is too intense by comparison to the sun’s light. Of course there are exceptions to every rule: I love the red blooms of the rhododendron when it’s in the shade.

I tried to figure out what was wrong.

The grape hyacinth were alright, even though there were so many that I basically saw them as a weed, but a sweet smelling weed that I could live with. Could it be the daffodil? I dug them out of my beds, but something was still not right.
My attention turned to the tulips. I decided that the yellow tulips, because they didn’t clash with the purple of the hyacinth, could stay. The red tulips were the ones that seemed to be setting off all of the other colors. That was it! They were the problem and would have to go! Over the next few years I dug up the red tulips and planted them in my vegetable garden where I had a row for cut flowers.

It seemed like I had come up with a good solution and at first my plan seemed to be working. My spring garden looked much nicer without the red. The only problem was that, year after year, instead of there being fewer tulips, there were even more than before! What was happening? What had I done?!

What was happening?

It turns out that the red and yellow tulips are a non-hybrid variety that naturalize (multiply) easily.

The yellow tulip with the red stripe is the result of cross-pollination.

There are two ways to propagate tulips: by seed or by dividing the bulb clusters. Tulips produce seed either by self-pollination or cross-pollination. This process is helped along by either the wind or animals because there is no nectar to attract the insect pollinators. Once the seed reaches full maturity it scatters easily in the wind, plants itself and begins to grow. Then, after about 5 years, the plant will begin to form a bulb between the root and stem, and that bulb will eventually produce a flower. This whole process from seed to flower can take up to twenty years!

The second method for propagation is to divide the plants. What happens is that once a bulb is mature it will start to form little bulblets that grow in clusters around the “parent” bulb. These clusters can be divided every couple of years when each one is big enough to produce its own flower.

What had I done?

When I was digging up the tulips to move them out of my garden, I had inadvertently taken only the “parent” bulb and had been leaving all of the little “baby” bulblets behind. This is why my tulips were increasing over time.

Seasons change. Gardens change.


I’ve moved most of the tulips into the backyard where they can be protected by the deer fence. There are many varieties of pink and, of course my favorite, black. It’s a color combination that I’m having a lot of fun with these days.

Meanwhile, the red and yellow tulips have been left to fend for themselves in the front garden. My red-tulip madness seems to have at last struck a balance with reality. I’ve stopped digging them out and, this year, even the deer seem to be leaving them alone. I still cut the red ones for bouquets to bring inside, giving the yellow tulips their time to shine in the sun.

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9 thoughts on “Oh Deer, Why So Many Tulips?

  1. Fascinating! I have had this happen where I tried to prune down something that is getting overgrown to find it grows ten times more! It makes me curious now to figure out “why” this is happening and to learn about the plant more! Had no idea about the tulips, those smart devils! Great post!


    1. That is actually a common experience. People worry about cutting, but the plants want to live!
      When you prune, the plant perceives it as an injury and it wants to replace what it has lost. If you cut a little, it only needs to replace a little. If you cut a lot it tries to recover by shooting out a lot of new growth. When your trying to control size it can take multiple times in a year to get and maintain the size you want; each time cutting a little less. Good luck!


  2. Gee, I do not give that much thought to color. I know what I like, and that I really like white. That is probably one of many reasons I am not a landscape designer.


      1. Knowing what I like is not as practical as knowing what color works. When I lived in town, white would have been a bad color for my bland landscape. Yellow and orange, two colors that I would not have selected myself, happened to look great there! I had plenty of white in my own patio where it was not visible outside, and it worked too because it was a small and partly shaded area. I usually asked the neighbors about the colors.

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  3. My feeling for plant life and its accomplishments has a chance to grow into something beyond the minuscule, – if I continue to stay tuned to Gardenkeeping. Let there be bulbs and seeds and merry blooms for all to know and see! May I say it plainly: May they grow, grow, and grow, and thereby fill all suitable niches with their beauty!

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