no, this is not about fans of the grateful dead. but i know one such fan (ahem, you know who you are) who also “deadheads” her tulips.
deadheading is pruning or removing the flower after it has wilted. this is done to encourage more flower growth through the season, or to improve the appearance and health of the plant for the next growing season.
in the case of tulips, sadly, they only bloom once a season. but my how they bloom!
remember these beauties?
well, this is what they look like today…
i wish blogs had sound effects, because right now you’d be hearing that sad, “Wa-waa” sound (not waa as in crying or whining; more like the one that sounds like a sad trombone playing two tones from a minor scale. anyone?)
“deadheading” can be done when the petals are still on and have only wilted, as in the faded red tulips above. but i usually wait until after all the petals have fallen off…
this is the part i cut off, just snapping it between my fingers:
the thinking behind deadheading tulips is that when the petals fall off, the seed pod remains on the stalk. the plant uses a lot of nutrients from the soil to maintain the seed pod, which is the reproductive organ of the plant. you’ll also notice that the seed pod is green, which means it undergoes photosynthesis*, a process that uses up a lot of energy. removing the seed pod allows the plant to store the energy and nutrients in the bulb.
* to learn more than you’ve ever wanted to know about photosynthesis, read more about it here on wikipedia.
now, how about those leaves and stalks? cut them back now, or wait for them to die?
well, the jury is out on this one. some insist on cutting them back while they are still green. others let them turn yellow and dry out naturally, then cut them back when no green remains or when they are completely dried out.
if you wait long enough for them to completely dry out, a simple tug usually separates the stem and leaves from the bulb which remains undisturbed below the earth. i only know this because this is what i do with my tulips. they come up year after year, often larger and more numerous than the year before. but i’m sure others who have different techniques enjoy similar results.
i have read that when the leaves and stem are allowed to die naturally, the nutrients from photosynthesis are stored in the root. i admit though, it’s not much fun looking at dead and wilted vegetation in an otherwise lush garden. it’s like that in-between stage when you’re trying to grow out your hair. you know you really need a haircut, it’s too long to manage, but not long enough to put it in a pony tail or style otherwise. but persevere through the awkward phase, it’s worth it! ;-)
some people weave or braid the dying leaves (no really, i read it on the interweb, it must be true!). others plant hostas or colourful annuals around the base of tulips to hide this growth. me, i just endure it til they’re dead dead dead. because waiting for them to turn yellow and dry out is nothing compared to the wait for spring when you’re in the thick of a long canadian winter!
drop me a line and let me know what you do with your tulips as they wilt.
in the meantime, i’m going to enjoy my last remaining tulip bloom…