When everything (isn’t) coming up roses

Hi there! I know it is so much more fun to talk about all the wonderful aspects of gardening, but sometimes, it’s a good idea to cover the ‘ugly’, too. Today I’m talking about tulips and something called ‘tulip fire’.

Tulips are a bulbous herb, that are planted in the fall and flower in the spring. They are considered perennial, as they should return every year. In truth, I have found that only in rare instances do they return year after year. It isn’t uncommon to have them dwindle in numbers as time goes on. In the worst case, they come down with tulip fire. Here’s what I’ve learned about that:

Tulip fire is a fungal disease of tulips caused by Botrytis tulipae, which produces brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves. It is so named because in severe cases plants appear as if scorched by fire.

The Royal Horticultural Society

My experience is that the leaves look terrible and they don’t actually produce flowers, or if they do, they are of very poor quality. The solution is to dig up the bulbs and throw them out (not on the compost). Also, it is advised to not replant tulips in that spot for at least three years.

While one way to prevent tulip fire is to ensure the bulbs are of a high quality, with no signs of the black mold on them, I have had the misfortune of tulip fire occurring on subsequent years after planting. For this, there are no preventative measures.

Playhouse with tulips and bleeding heart

Here’s my story of how tulip fire wiped out a full bed of tulips. In the fall of 2021, we planted 60 bulbs each of Tulip Mascotte (fringed tulips) and Tulip Lilac Perfection in front of our playhouse. They were amazing that first year!

Tulip Lilac perfection and Tulip Mascotte
Tulip Lilac Perfection.

They were truly fabulous tulips! There were so many blooms that seemed to last forever. And of course they made great cut flowers, too.

Tulip Mascotte in a vase
Tulip Lilac perfect in a vase

And now we turn to what they looked like on year two (this year) …

Tulips with tulip fire fungus.
Tulips with tulip fire fungus dug up for disposal.

It was pretty heart breaking to go from 120 beautiful tulips to this dreadful mess, and in just one year. But there’s no point in dwelling on it. That’s just the risk you take with gardening. I have some tulips in the garden that have returned for many years, as well as tulips that seem to live by the moto ‘one and done’!

It’ll take more than one or two cases of tulip fire to keep me from planting tulips in different places around the garden, though. They’re just too pretty. Nevertheless, I’m now on the lookout for an alternative to tulips for this spot in front of the playhouse.

I hope you never experience tulip fire, but if you do, you know what to do. 🙂

In Peace,

4 thoughts on “When everything (isn’t) coming up roses

    • Thank you, Su. I’ve discovered that the area doesn’t get full sun, so I think I’m going to try Solomon’s seal. I do like the idea of lilies there, though. We’ll see!

  1. I’ve seen reports from others of the same disaster. Really, they are no more than annuals – expensive annuals at that. We confine them simply to pot display and have never bothered putting them into the open garden. We have a few species tulips in the open garden alright and they do well for us.

    • In my home in New York, we couldn’t have them because the deer would eat them. It’s such a shame to be able to grow them and yet they don’t do well. But they are so pretty! 🙂

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