How to Make Your Cut Tulips Last Longer

Yellow and pink cut tulips placed in glass vase next to coffee mug

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Don’t be spooked if the straight upright tulips you arranged yesterday are leaning and drooping all over the place today. No mischief is involved, nor are your flowers wilting.

“They’re just doing what tulips do—dance in the vase,” says David Caras of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Center in New York City.

If you are used to growing tulips that stand up straight in the ground, this can be very disconcerting. However, if you cut a 1/2 inch off your tulip stems on an angle, put them right into water, and keep the vase in a cool room, you'll be doing everything right to keep them fresher longer. There's no need to add a floral preservative to the vase; just refresh the water daily and frequently give the tulips a tiny snip to the bottom of the stems.

There are reasons tulips seem to bob and weave in the vase, says Caras, “Unlike other flowers, tulips keep growing after being cut. The movement occurs as the stems grow upward, while the large flowers respond and grow towards the light. The flowers open wide during the day and close at night.”

According to Caras, these graceful habits are one's floral designer's treasure, but can confuse people used to “so-called normal flowers that just stand there in the vase.”

Even if you don't grow your own tulips, you can still experience their contortions as cut flowers. There are always plenty of cut tulips available at florists and even the grocery store flower aisle offers a good assortment. There are new lovely varieties to choose from every year and a color for every taste. Tulips make a long-lasting cut flower, so go ahead and indulge and have some fun with their erratic behavior.

Tips for Keeping Your Tulips Looking Good

For the longest vase life:

  • Buy tulips with flower heads that are just starting to open. The bud should be somewhat closed, but with the color of the flower should be very evident. You don't want to buy buds that are still green.
  • Before arranging your tulips, condition them by re-cutting the base of the stem at an angle with a clean sharp knife. Make this snip at least 1/2 inch from the bottom of the stem. This will open up and increase the flower's water uptake channels, so they stay fresh and don't wilt or go into shock.
  • Cut flower food is not necessary for tulips, but tulips are extremely thirsty. Check the water level in the vase daily and, for the longest vase life, change the water in the vase daily. At the very least, top off the water as the level lowers. Never let your tulips sit without water covering the bottoms of their stems.
  • Keep your tulips in a cool room. You can even drop an ice cube in the water, to help keep the temperature down. (The ice cube will eventually melt. You can do this with tulips grown in containers, too. It will help them stay in bloom longer, indoors.)
  • Keep your cut tulips away from sources of heat, including direct sunlight, radiators, lamps, television sets, and other electronics.

With proper care, tulips should last about seven days after opening.