Tulips as perennials

Q. I have ordered several hundred tulip bulbs for fall planting. Can I be assured of their return for many years?

A. Most of the large hybrid tulips planted today are not true perennials in the Chicago area. Tulips require moisture in spring, when they are actively growing, followed by a dry dormant period during summer. After tulips fade, most gardeners plant annuals in their place—plants that require constant watering throughout the summer. This excess moisture in the soil rots most of the tulip bulbs and accounts for their "one year only" performance.

Certain species of tulips are true perennials—the "species" or "botanical" tulips that are much shorter than the tall hybrids and generally bloom much earlier. Tulipa kaufmanniana and Tulipa fosteriana are also more reliable than the hybridized bulbs.