The Dark Side of Kingwood’s Tulips

By Chuck Gleaves

Kingwood is widely known for our spring tulip display. Our phones ring constantly in the spring as prospective visitors try to determine the best time to come see the tulips. We have been offering big displays of tulips every year for about sixty-two years. Some of our tulip beds have had tulips in them every year for decades.

Kingwood's tulips with peacock

Kingwood’s tulips with peacock

Most people have heard about crop rotation, but it is not always about soil fertility. It also concerns the accumulation of pests, such as in this case, diseases that accumulate in the soil. For tulips, the fungal pathogen that is their primary nemesis is Botrytis tulipaeor Tulip Fire or just Botrytis.

Tulips destroyed by the fungal disease Botrytis

Tulips destroyed by the fungal disease Botrytis

It tends to accumulate in the soil where it sits in wait for the perfect weather to strike. We apply prophylactic fungicides on our tulips every year, but perfect Botrytis proliferation weather will always trump our fungicides as it did in several beds this year. Combined with an unprecedented attack from rodents, six of our many tulip beds were so badly decimated we had to pull the tulips and post signs that said “crop failure”.

Damaged bed of tulips

Damaged bed of tulips

What is the solution? The problem has been accumulating for sixty-two years, so the solution cannot be achieved immediately, but we must start. Next year we plan to plant hyacinths in those six beds where we pulled the tulips. We ought to avoid planting tulips in those beds for at least two years. We ought to plant an alternative crop in other traditional tulip beds as well, although our customers expect tulips. Furthermore, hyacinths are considerably more expensive. A reasonable program of letting a few tulip beds feature hyacinths every couple of years would cost about $1,000 more than the tulips would have cost.

We will continue to grow lots of tulips at Kingwood, but we will also begin the process of reducing the accumulated inoculum of Botrytis in our tulip beds by rotating in hyacinths in selected beds.

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