4 Expert Tips for When and How to Cut Tulips in Your Garden

Your tulips can last up to 10 days in a vase when you harvest them at the right time and give them some TLC.

close up of orange flowers in a vase

Jim Franco

Tulips are some of the simplest flowers to grow in your garden. Unfortunately, they're also some of the most frustrating to arrange in a vase because tulips tend to droop and keep growing (up to an inch a day!) after being cut from the plant. The first step for getting the most out of them is learning how to cut tulips, whether you arrange them in a vase with other flowers or by themselves. Your garden-fresh tulips will reward you by showing off their pretty petals for a week to 10 days after that first cut.

"For people who cut tulips and bring them into their house, you are interacting with them. Every day, they're doing something different, which is really exciting to watch," says Ellen Frost of Local Color Flowers in Baltimore, Maryland.

Here are four tips and tricks to getting the most out of your fresh-cut tulips from Frost and other floral experts nationwide. 

1. How to Cut Tulips at the Right Stage

To make your tulips last longest, cut the blooms when they have about 50%-75% of their full color. Any less, and the flowers won't develop further in the vase. "If you cut them too early, while they're still completely green and tight, they might never get their color," says Beth Barnett of Larkspur Flowers and Design in Chicago, Illinois.

On the flip side, Barnett also cautions against waiting too long. "In the springtime, once it starts getting warmer and sunnier out, you want to be careful to not let [tulips] get going too much because they won't last as long." And like most flowers you want to cut, aim to harvest them either early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures tend to be coolest.

2. Take Time to Prep Stems

When you bring your tulips inside, use clean clippers to give them a fresh cut before wrapping the stems in newspaper or brown craft paper to keep them straight. Also, strip off any browning lower leaves so they won't rot in the vase water. The bacteria in the dirty water can cause the flower stems to become mushy.

"The more stuff you have in [the vase], the faster the water is going to get dirty. So take off any of those old leaves or bottom leaves that are on there," says Frost. "You want your flower to hydrate, and you really don't need ugly lower leaves to get hydrated. You want all of that water to put energy into the bloom itself."

Leave the wrapped tulips in a tall vase with just a couple of inches of cool water for 12-18 hours before arranging them. This will help prevent the stems from becoming soft and slimy.

3. Keep Things Clean

To help your flowers last for up to a week or so in a vase, make sure you first clean your vessel with a bit of bleach and water to disinfect the surfaces of any bacteria. Then, give the stems another trim with clean clippers before placing them in fresh water. Change the water daily and trim the stem ends each time you do.

4. Use Flower Food

Add a little bit of flower food (Crysal or FloraLife packets, for example) each time you change the water. You only need to use a small portion at first. After a couple of days, when you change the water and give the stems a fresh cut, add a little more of your flower food to the vase.

“Flower food is always going to increase the longevity of any flower,” says Niki Irving of Flourish Flower Farm in Asheville, North Carolina. “You really only need to use a third or a half [of the packet] at a time, you don't have to put the whole thing in your vase in one go.” 

Best Tulips to Grow for Cutting

Irving, Barnett, and Frost shared their favorite tulip varieties to grow for cutting, which include single, double, and parrot tulips. They also suggest planting a selection of types with early, mid, and late bloom times to maximize the period you'll have tulips in your garden to harvest.

Irving recommends 'Apricot' parrot tulips, 'Copper Image' double tulips, 'Foxtrot' tulips, and 'Salmon Van Eijk' tulips. Barnett also likes the early-blooming 'Foxtrot tulips, the plum-colored 'Negrita' parrot tulips, late blooming 'Angelique', 'Super Parrot' tulips, and 'Silver Parrot' tulips. Frost swears by the tall, peachy-striped coral 'Menton' tulips and the fragrant 'Brown Sugar' tulips that boast mauve-colored blooms.

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