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Not Too Late For Tulips

Not Too Late For Tulips !!


For anyone who thinks that they have left it too late to plant bulbs, don’t despair! Although tulips are generally planted between October and December, the later you leave it, the better. The best time to plant tulips is after the first hard frost of winter. A hard frost, or indeed several hard frosts, will kill any fungal spores of the disease tulip fire that are in the ground.

The Latin name of this disease is botrytis tulipae. This will instantly alert any gardeners familiar with botrytis, or grey mould, to the symptoms of tulip fire.




Affected leaves are covered with pale brown spore-producing blotches. Leaves and shoots will be distorted and will later will become covered in dense grey fungal growths. Flowers will be bleached and brown spots will appear on the tepals. Buds may fail to open and will eventually also be covered in the grey fungal growths. If you dig up the bulbs, you will see brown lesions on the bulbs and also black sclerotia – resting bodies of the fungus. It is these sclerotia that stay in the soil and will later germinate when tulips are planted in the same area.

What to do:


The fungus flourishes in wet seasons and is spread between plants by wind and rain. With global warming and the prospect of a milder and wetter climate in the Ireland and the UK, tulip fire may well become more familiar to many gardeners. There are, however, a number of ways that you can minimise the risk of your tulips being infected:

1. The common advice is not to plant tulips in any infected ground for two to three years. As tulips prefer fertile well drained soil in full sun, this may not be an option if you have a small garden, only one such area and if you love your tulips.

2.. An alternative option would be to replace the soil in that area, but this may be too laborious and impractical. As noted above a good hard frost will kill any spores in the ground. Another option is therefore to thoroughly dig over the ground before planting, to make sure that frost will penetrate the soil. For best results, do this a couple of times between frosts, before planting, making sure to thoroughly turn the soil.

3. When planting the bulbs, you could dip them in a fungicide beforehand to help prevent infection. This is not recommended however if you garden organically.

4. Another tip is not to plant your bulbs too close together. The disease favours moist conditions, and will spread more quickly where bulbs are planted thickly and there is poor air circulation. A good space between the bulbs will ensure that there is enough space for air circulation between plants.

5. If growing tulips in pots, thoroughly disinfect the pots using a scrubbing bush, hot soapy water with a spot of household bleach added.


6. Dig up any infected plants and bulbs and burn them. Do not add them to your compost heap or any compost bin that will be collected by the council.

Copyright A Walsh 2002-2007