Key message: Tulip vegetative reproduction. Abstract: Tulips reproduce asexually by the outgrowth of their axillary meristems located in the axil of each bulb scale. The number of axillary meristems in one bulb is low, and not all of them grow out during the yearly growth cycle of the bulb. Since the degree of axillary bud outgrowth in tulip determines the success of their vegetative propagation, this study aimed at understanding the mechanism controlling the differential axillary bud activity. We used a combined physiological and “bottom-up” molecular approach to shed light on this process and found that first two inner located buds do not seem to experience dormancy during the growth cycle, while mid-located buds enter dormancy by the end of the growing season. Dormancy was assessed by weight increase and TgTB1 expression levels, a conserved TCP transcription factor and well-known master integrator of environmental and endogenous signals influencing axillary meristem outgrowth in plants. We showed that TgTB1 expression in tulip bulbs can be modulated by sucrose, cytokinin and strigolactone, just as it has been reported for other species. However, the limited growth of mid-located buds, even when their TgTB1 expression is downregulated, points at other factors, probably physical, inhibiting their growth. We conclude that the time of axillary bud initiation determines the degree of dormancy and the sink strength of the bud. Thus, development, apical dominance, sink strength, hormonal cross-talk, expression of TgTB1 and other possibly physical but unidentified players, all converge to determine the growth capacity of tulip axillary buds.