Reviewing, Planning & Planting
Reviewing the 2020 Tulip Season
Whilst we were all either cooped up at home during lockdown or out working as a key workers one thing didn't change. Mother Nature kept on doing her thing and Spring arrived in a flash of sunshine and a sudden lack of rain. The ground was already parched already after one of the driest March's on record. Seems hard to believe after an entire Autumn and Winter with almost constant rainfall (or so it felt anyway). In 2018 I decided to plant what I like to refer to as my Mini Keukenhoff bed. Which is basically a densely packed tulip bed planted in rows of colour, reminiscent of the flower fields in Holland. The bed isn't massive at just 13ft x 4.5ft. I planted over 750 tulip bulbs in that first year just in that bed alone. That year we had perfect weather for tulips. Cold frosty winter's days with very little in the way of rainfall. I planted them out in late November when the ground was cold which should help keep the bulbs disease free (you can plant them as late as January but November is the best month, just wait until a cold snap). The tulips in 2019 were above and beyond my expectations. A truly staggering display and I was able to sell a huge amount of them to customers in bouquets and tulip wraps.
Unfortunately this year has been a different story. I re planted the mini Keukenhoff as well as another two beds. The other beds were planted in clumps rather than stripes though. The amount of constant rain we had unfortunately meant that the risk of the fungal disease Tulip Fire was very likely, particularly in a densely packed bed like my one. The bulbs are all so close together its very easy for the fungus to spread from one plant to the next. If there is another plant, of the non tulip variety, in between them that can help stop the spread. So the main mini Keukenhoff bed was struck down with Tulip Fire. One whole section of it just didn't even produce any flowers and the rest of them were smaller and weaker. There were still a lot of tulips that I could cut just no where near the display from the previous year.
How to reduce the risk of Tulip Fire
There isn't a lot you can do to prevent tulip fire. Making sure your bulbs are free of any mould when planting is essential but the rain plays a very big part. The beds that I planted in clumps with other plants separating them seem to be absolutely fine so maybe that's the answer. Spread them out more. Make sure you have other plants in-between them.
How to get rid of Tulip Fire
Unfortunately the only thing you can do to get rid of it is to dig up all the bulbs in the infected bed and burn them. Remove most of the surrounding soil too. If you cut any of the tulips to bring inside make sure you don't put them in the compost bin but burn them as well. It spreads very easily so you need to get rid of it quickly as soon as you spot it. Once you've cleared the infected area you need to avoid planting any tulips in that bed for at least 4 years. You can put other plants in just not tulips.
So this year was a bit of a wash for the mini Keukenhoff bed but that's gardening for you. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. You are completely at the mercy of the weather and Mother Nature. Taking a few preventative measures can help though as described. The other tulips I planted in other beds were amazing. A gorgeous display and as I wasn't really able to sell them due to the Covid19 outbreak and first lockdown I made up small bouquets and deposited them on unsuspecting neighbours and friends doorsteps to hopefully cheer them up a bit during a very difficult time. If you look back to my blog post last November you'll see my 2019 recommendations for my favourite tulips. Well I'd now like to redo my favourites list. This is a 'Must Haves' list for any tulip lover out there or anyone just starting out growing tulips for cutting particularly. Some haven't changed from last year but there are a few great new varieties that I added to my beds this year and have loved. So here goes....
La Belle Epoque - Apricot/pink and coffee petals which fade beautifully to give it an antique feel. Word to the wise, buy yours early as they tend to sell out!
Mount Tacoma - A beautiful white double tulip that is so stunning as it opens and fades. Very reminiscent of a peony and an excellent substitute for a bride in April looking for something seasonal. This is a late flowering variety.
Cabella - This one is tricky to get hold of and was a bit of a surprise love for me this year. I don't usually like the orangey reds but this one looked so beautiful next to the blue of my Forget-me-nots and mixed with the deeper red of Mascara tulips. The white edging on the petals really adds texture when you put it in a bunch or bouquet with other tulips. A lovely uplifting tulip, great stem length and vase life.
Copper Image - So many beautiful colours and tones in this stunner. From burnt orange to pink, yellow and copper all fading to a gorgeous muted vintage looking double tulip. The only down side is it seems to be quite short but that's something I can forgive when it's this pretty. Seen below with the beautiful pink Angelique Tulip.
Black Parrot - I think of all the parrot tulips this one has been the most beautiful for me. It's deep colour mixed with the odd streak of green and a lighter burgundy adds a nice surprise element and mine had a great stem length and vase life which I haven't had with the Apricot parrot. I do love the Apricot one but it just doesn't seem to last as well.
Vovos - Another very hard one to find. If you managed to locate some please let me know so I can buy some. I know Sarah Raven sells them as part of a tulip collection but it was quite expensive so I'm holding off on that. The only downside to these was their stem length so as long as you aren't buying them as a florist to use in bouquets you should be ok. I have to say mine didn't look much like the photo from when I bought it. It looked like it had yellow in it from the image online but mine most definitely didn't have any yellow in them. See for yourself in these photos. They started out a kind of muted dusty dark pinky mauve and faded out beautifully too to a dusty lilac and lasted well in a vase. Before they were completely open they reminded me a bit of an Iris. They are incredibly beautiful and I've had some great success drying these too. They dry out into the most incredible blue and lilac colours.
Dark Tulips - Ok so not technically one tulip so I'm cheating here but I am completely in love with all the darker tulips. From black to the deepest reds and all shades in between. No tulip bed is complete without them. My favourites are Black Hero, Mascara, National Velvet, Black Jack, Havran, Ayaan & Queen of the Night to name a few.
Salmon Van Eijk & Apricot Impression - For me these two are perfect florists tulip fodder. Beautiful tall strong stems and last beautifully. Can be reflexed to create enormous blooms if you're into that sort of thing. A bit of a show stopper but if you're short on space then just choose one of these, either will do as they are both beauties.
Plant deep, deeper than you think. I plant mine about 6inches deep. If you are planting to sell then when you pick the tulip it's better if you pull the whole bulb up. If you are planting wanting them to come back the following year then still plant deep as it helps protect the bulbs from the weather and pests trying to steal the bulbs. Plant from November to January. Earlier is better but you need to wait for a cold snap as you want the ground to be cold to protect from diseases. I have planted a lot of tulips into apple crates lined with old compost bags this year. I've covered the crate in chicken wire and tucked them away behind my shed to be brought out and dotted around my terrace when they start to come through the soil.
Always protect your bulbs once planted from squirrels and mice. I cover my beds with chicken wire which looks horrible over winter but keeps the pests away. Also, make sure you don't leave any scraps of bulb skins as animals will smell them. I have read that squirrels don't actually like eating bulbs. They see disturbed earth and think another squirrel must have buried a nut there. So they dig the bulb up, run off with it and then probably discard it when they realise it's not what they were looking for. One idea to try is to cover the disturbed ground in leaves then the squirrel will hopefully be none the wiser. Please don't use chilli flakes like some people recommend as they irritate the squirrels eyes, making them burn so they scratch at them. Although we don't want to encourage the squirrels we also don't want to hurt them.
Well that's it for the tulip chat this year. I hope you've found this helpful or interesting? Leave a comment or ask any questions or email me. Thanks for taking the time to read along with me. Happy planting!