By: Liz Baessler
Tulips are hardy and easy to grow, and provide a welcome early sign of spring. Though they’re fairly disease tolerant, there are a few common tulip diseases that can affect the soil or your new bulbs. Keep reading for information on diseases of tulips.
Most problems with tulips are fungal in nature.
Tulip disease problems are often treated by a thorough examination before planting. Study each bulb carefully, looking for tell-tale dark or spongy spots and mold. You can also detect rot by dropping the bulbs in water: rotten bulbs will float, while healthy bulbs will sink.
Unfortunately, water is a good carrier of disease. This makes it easier for infected bulbs to spread to healthy ones. Be sure to spray all the good bulbs with fungicide to prevent future issues.
If any of these tulip disease problems manifest themselves on your tulip plants, remove and burn the infected plants as soon as you notice them. Don’t plant tulips in that spot for a few years, as the disease spores can remain in the soil and infect future plants.
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Small cracks in the bark of the yellow tulip poplar might be the result of a fungus known as fusarium canker. The first year of infection may show few signs except the vertical cracks oozing in the fall. By the second year, the crown of the tree may start to die back. The vertical cracks can get up to one foot long. The crack may callous over during the winter, but the fungus is still attacking the wood underneath. The best treatment is to apply a fungicide or cut the canker out of the tree.
Tulips at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center in Las Cruces in March 2018. (Photo: Marisa Y. Thompson)
Question: For the past several years, our tulips have struggled with some sort of disease. We suspect tulip fire blight. The symptoms are stunted growth twisted, discolored foliage and discoloration of flowers. Is there anything we can do to prevent this issue from being a problem again this year?
Answer: It’s hard for me to know exactly what ails your tulips without having plant tissues tested. It could be the fungal pathogen Botrytis tulipae that is known to cause tulip fire blight in the Midwest, but as of now, there are no recorded cases of B. tulipae either in NMSU’s distance diagnostic system or in the National Plant Diagnostic Network National Repository for New Mexico.
Test, don’t guess! The Plant Diagnostic Clinic at NMSU’s main campus is a great resource: https://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/plantclinic/. From pathogen testing to identification of weedy species and bugs, these services are free to New Mexicans as long as the samples are submitted through a county Extension agent. Find your county’s NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office by visiting https://aces.nmsu.edu/county/.
Marisa Y. Thompson (Photo: Courtesy)
Other species of Botrytis were reported in 2018 as problems in different plants, mostly in onion production, but also iris and the houseplant African violet. There have been confirmed cases in New Mexico of other fungal diseases in tulips. The fungal pathogen that causes Fusarium basal rot was found in samples of pumpkins, onions, garlic and alfalfa last year, and could be related to the problem in your tulips. It could also be bacterial soft rot caused by Erwinia carotovora which was reported in tulips growing in Los Alamos county back in 2010. Erwinia amylovora, a related species that causes fire blight in apples and pears, was a huge problem for orchard growers last year.
Many pathogens are host-specific. That is, even if they’re rampant in the environment, they’ll only infect and affect specific plant species or families or cultivars. Did you notice problems with your tulips in earlier years or has the problem intensified over time? Depending on the pathogen, you may be able to control disease simply by rotating species. Tulips and daffodils are from different families and have different disease pressures. Could you skip tulips a few seasons and try daffodils instead?
Here at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas, we installed an ornamental bulb trial last month that included daffodils, bulb iris, crocus and a few others. I was worried about planting so late (and frankly, I still am worried), but I was encouraged by seasoned gardeners who said as long as the soil is workable and isn’t frozen, many bulbs can thrive when planted late. Soil temperature at a depth of 6 inches was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of planting, and this morning, under 3.5 inches of snow, I measured temperatures in the low to mid 30s. Last year I planted daffodil bulbs in Los Lunas in mid-January, and their bright blooms popped up in mid-March, right on time. Of course, that outcome could have been a fluke — I planted those bulbs at my house, so it wasn’t a formal study.
Ornamental bulbs aren’t very popular in New Mexico gardens, but I intend to change that. Daffodils and tulips I planted in Las Cruces rebloomed several years with astonishingly little water or other care. I’m eager to see how the different bulbs we planted in experimental plots affect soil health and beneficial insect populations. We’ll be monitoring for pollinating insects this winter, so stay tuned.
Another option if soils in your area are already frozen or you’re afraid it’s too late to actually plant is to force bulbs indoors. For tips on forcing bulbs to bloom indoors and then planting them outside in spring for future years, visit this week’s blog post: https://nmsudesertblooms.blogspot.com/.
Please collect leaf, root and flower samples this season — both from the healthy and suffering tulips, stored separately — and bring them to the Bernalillo County Extension office to be sent down for analysis. If you add my name to the form, I’ll get a copy of the final report. My hope is that your tulip problems can be mitigated by letting the soil dry out more between waterings, avoiding over-fertilizing (excessive nitrogen) and thereby making the environment less hospitable to disease-causing pathogens.
For more gardening information, including decades of archived Southwest Yard & Garden columns, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page, follow us on social media (@NMDesertBlooms), or contact your County Extension office.
Marisa Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist for New Mexico State University and is based at the Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas.
Tulips are prone to many diseases. So, it is important to know these diseases, and take preventive measure to ensure a healthy bloom.
Stunted growth can also be a problem if your tulips are exposed to inadequate winter cooling or warm spring temperatures.Here are some problems with growing tulips that you should be aware of.
If you are growing your tulips from the same bulbs year after year, then you may not get healthy blooms. So, it is better to use fresh bulbs season.
A number of animals find tulips quite tasty, thus making you, the gardener’s job a lot more difficult. You will know that your tulips have been feasted on if you see half-eaten bulbs or plants, sneaky tunnels in the ground, tiny holes in the dirt or small mounds of earth around the flower bed. To prevent this, use wire mesh all around the tulip beds and even some sharp gravel in the planting holes.
Bulb rot is another disease that you need to be aware of, especially when you are buying the bulbs. Only go with those bulbs which are free from molds or abrasions, and buy from reputed vendors only. Also, make sure you plant in soil that is well-drained. Fungi love moisture. So, dampness will always lead to infected bulbs.
Tulip Blight is another disease that you need to know about. This disease affects the foliage and bulbs, and usually happens when the climate is cold and wet. Destroying all afflicted plants and bulbs, and spraying with fungicide will help.
Tulips are also susceptible to a number of viral infections, and the best way to fight them is to get rid of all infected bulbs and plants.
Tulips are one of the very first flowers of spring, and add dazzle to your garden along with the daffodils and crocuses. Tulip blooms are comparatively quite short-lived, since they last not more than a week in warm weather. Knowing the right planting depths and choosing between early, mid-spring and late varieties, it is possible to enjoy these beautiful flowers for two to three months. More..