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Are there any tulips that will come back year after year?

Although tulips are favorites in the spring garden, many gardeners become disappointed when they do not return reliably every year as do daffodils, crocuses and many of our other favorite spring bulbs. Fortunately, there are some tulips that are quite perennial and excellent repeat performers for St. Louis. Look for those species and varieties that are listed in catalogs or on the packaging as good prospects for naturalizing or perennializing. They should return reliably and perform well for three to five years or more.

In general, the species or botanical tulips and their hybrids will return year after year and thus naturalize well. The Netherlands FlowerBulb Information Center suggests the following cultivated tulip varieties as being the best choices for naturalizing: Tulipa fosteriana varieties 'Candela', 'Orange Emperor', 'Princeps', 'Purissima', and 'Red Emperor', which is also sold as 'Madame Lefeber'. Tulipa greigii varieties 'Red Riding Hood' and 'Toronto', as well as Tulipa praestans 'Fusilier'. Other good choices include: the Triumph tulips 'Don Quichotte', 'Golden Melody', 'Kees Nelis' and 'Merry Widow'. Lily-flowered tulips 'Aladdin', 'Ballade', 'Maytime', 'Redshine', and 'White Triumphator'. Darwin hybrid tulips 'Apeldoorn', 'Apeldoorn's Elite', 'Beauty of Apeldoorn', 'Golden Apeldoorn', 'Holland's Glorie', 'Oxford', and 'Striped Apeldoorn'. Single early tulips such as the hybrids 'Keizerkroon', 'Christmas Marvel' and 'Couleur Cardinal'. The Fringed tulip variety 'Burgundy Lace' also perennializes well.

Companion planting offers a way to hide unsightly tulip foliage after the flowers are gone. Plant odd-numbered clumps of tulips in among taller perennials such as daisies, Monarda, coneflowers, hostas, daylilies and peonies. Annuals planted in among the tulips offer another way to hide the ripening tulip foliage. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias offer varieties that will grow tall and camouflage the tulip foliage.

To get the best results from these perennial tulips, plant them in the mid-to late fall in a site that gets six to eight hours of sunlight during the spring blooming season. Be sure they are in well-draining soil. That will help avoid rots, fungi and diseases. Plant tulip bulbs deeply, in eight-inch holes, measuring from the base of the bulb. Mulch applied to the area after planting counts as soil depth.

Be sure the soil is moist after planting. Water bulbs after planting if the soil is dry--they need to develop a vigorous root system before the ground freezes. In the spring, deadhead tulips after the flowers are past their peak--simply cut the flower stems and put them in your compost heap. Then the plants can direct all of their energies into preparing for the next blooming season rather than into developing seeds. Be sure to allow the foliage to ripen naturally--cutting green tulip foliage will drastically reduce the likelihood of the next year's bloom.

Each spring when tulip foliage begins to appear, an application of organic fertilizer such as dried cow manure will encourage good growth. Or you could use a slow-release, all-purpose manufactured fertilizer such as 5-10-10, 8-8-8 or a formulation made especially for bulbs such as 9-6-6.

Choosing the most perennial of the tulips will ensure years of beauty in your garden. For top tulip performance, provide them with good drainage, adequate light and moisture and the full range of important nutrients.