Planting bright-colored tulips in the fall brighten up the days of early spring. Purple tulips are normal but their foliage turning purple is not normal. Instead, it indicates a problem.
So, in this article, we shall understand why are your tulips turning purple and how can you fix the same.
Phosphorus deficiency is the primary cause of purple foliage in tulips. If the plants are not fertilized well, or the soil mix is incorrect, then a young tulip plant often turns purple. The phosphorus deficiency will also cause small and fewer blooms, so fixing the problem early on is crucial.
When the tulip flower turns purple, it is its natural way of changing colors. Some varieties will mutate to purple, and some will have purple overtones at the edges once the flower blooms fully.
Other than the natural color change, tulips turning purple due to phosphorus deficiency need fixation.
This article will discuss the probable causes for tulips turning purple. We will also cover information about managing the problem behind purple tulips.
Why do tulips turn purple?
When the leaves of the tulip plant turn purple, it indicates only one problem, i.e., phosphorus deficiency. There are other reasons, too, like broken tulips or flames and feathers. Phosphorus deficiency is relatively standard than the other reasons.
However, when you find your tulips having purple foliage, you should consider investigating all the problems and take action. Now, let’s learn all the reasons behind tulips turning purple.
The first typical cause behind tulips foliage turning purple is the lack of phosphorus in the plants. Every flowering plant needs phosphorus for healthy root growth and abundant blooming.
Lack of this nutrient will not only cause purple leaves, but they will also make the blooms small and less in number.
The purpling of the leaves will start at the tips of the leaves. The older leaves or the old plants are the ones to be affected first. In the beginning, the leaves will turn dark green. Then they will turn purple at the edges.
In most conditions, phosphorus deficiency doesn’t only cause due to low phosphorus in the soil. Sometimes, the plant fails to absorb nutrients properly. This can be due to overwatering because the roots get suffocated and fail to absorb both water and nutrients.
If your plant displays purple leaves, you need to test the soil before adding phosphorus fertilizers. Randomly adding high phosphorus fertilizer will only pollute the soil bed.
Let’s see what points should be considered before adding any high phosphorus supplements to the soil:
Before adding phosphorus, test the soil. Consider every condition of the soil. If the soil result shows phosphorus deficiency, you can increase phosphorus by adding bone meal or compost.
Weather conditions can also be responsible for behind low absorption of phosphorus. Cold and wet soil can make the tulips difficult to absorb phosphorus from the soil. However, if cold is the problem, it will be solved when the weather gets normal.
Sometimes, the signs are visible in the early spring when the plant is set out early.
Before adding phosphorus supplements, you should get the soil’s pH checked. High iron levels will hold phosphorus, due to which it would be difficult for the plant to absorb adequate amounts of the nutrients.
Highly acidic soil will also lack phosphorus.
Before taking any action to fix the phosphorus level in the tulip bed, wait for some days. If you have sent the soil for testing, wait for the results. Keep watering to keep the soil bed evenly moist.
If cold and wet weather is the reason, wait until the weather gets warm. If the plant behaves well after the arrival of a warm climate, you don’t have to add any extra phosphorus. Continue will the original fertilizing plan.
A lot of varieties will be available in the tulips. But, when aphids attack the bulbs, they carry the mosaic virus. When this virus attacks the bulbs, the tulips will have a different pattern in their color.
The plant will grow and even bloom in this state. The tulip flowers will have deep colors than their actual color. However, the color-changing to purple is not the same for all tulips.
It is applicable only for some specific colored tulips. For example, a beautiful deep pink flower will turn into a deep purple. This color change is known as broken tulips.
It is said that the offsets produced by the broken tulips carry a gene that is responsible for color change. The flowers will have a mottled flower with light purple streaks within a few years.
Flames and feathers
The broken tulips evolve a lot over time. The reason is due to their color-changing patterns. A red-colored tulip appears blood-red when attacked by this virus. A lot of growers carry this effect of the virus without any disease.
These tulips have a marking that resembles the sign of flames or feathers at the edges of tulip petals. This marking is purple. Many tulip varieties are seen in gardens with this color-changing effect due to the virus.
For instance, the base color of the tulip is one color, like white or baby pink and the flame and feather sign at the petal edge is purple.
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Foliage starts dying
It might not be prevalent. Some tulip owners say that they find the tulip leaves turning a bit of light purple before they start dying. This color is seen just before or after they turn brown.
This is not seen in maximum cases, though. Most of the time, the leaves will turn yellow when they are dead. Maybe the purple color is visible during very few moments when they start to fade before being brown.
This is a purple pigment. It gets built up in the tulips when the plant gets stressed. This affects the normal functioning of the plant. This problem is tough to inspect and identify because many factors can cause the build-up of this pigment, like droughts or diseases.
Usually, this pigment is present in the flowers, responsible for the various color patterns in tulips, especially purple, red, orange, and pink.
Basal rot is a disease caused by various fungi and bacteria and contaminates all the bulb plants, not just tulips. It is also known as bulb rot.
When a bulb is affected by this disease, the plant fails to sprout out of the bulb. Even if the shoots are out, they have stunted growth. The leaves turn from yellow to reddish or purple. In severe cases, they will wilt.
At first, the rot will begin from the bulb and gradually move upwards and spread to the whole plant, as far as it has grown itself. The fungal rots would be powdery and moldy, whereas the bacterial rot would be mushy and smelly.
This disease increases during warm and humid conditions.
The best way to stop this is prevention. You should always use healthy and disease-free bulbs. A healthy bulb means one that is dry, firm, and healthy.
Avoid overwatering, overcrowding, and over-fertilizing to stop the disease from spreading or worsening. For treating a mild infected bulb, soak them in hot water and fungicide.
Natural color changing of the tulip flowers
There are varieties of tulip flowers that will change their color, especially when they grow big and become mature. When the flower just emerges, it shows one color. Once they grow big, the color mutates to other flowers, like red, pink, or purple.
I would like to share some examples.
Rob Verlinden Tulip
Also known as Greigii tulips, these are available in all bright shades, like white, pink, red, yellow, or combined colors.
When you have these tulips, the foliage gradually gets mottled by purple color when the flowers start opening wide.
They have short stems, and the color passes from the flower to the foliage. This adds a beautiful texture to your garden.
Orange princess tulip
They belong to the double late tulip varieties. This tulip tends to have a very fantastic fragrance. They also have flowers streaked with many colors, like brown or purple.
You will see the streaks when the flower grows full. Moreover, these purple color streaks will carry through the stems too. As a result, the stems similarly might look a little purplish.
So, don’t get alarmed whenever you see such color changes in your tulip flowers, leaves, or stems. This is a natural process.
The flowers mutate and change to purple, or some flowers will carry the purple color towards the stems and leaves, giving them a touch of purple streaks or hues.
How to care for tulips?
Taking proper care of the tulips will save the leaves from phosphorus deficiency, basal rots, or mosaic virus.
However, some gardeners don’t consider the mosaic virus disease because they make the tulip flower more vibrant by intensifying its original color.
But, of course, phosphorus deficiency and basal rot are indeed a problem. It needs to be treated quickly so that the problems don’t increase much.
Now let’s see how you should take care of the tulips to avoid any risky situations:
When you plant tulips, make sure the sight gets full sunlight. The site should be void of any blockages like trees or buildings. Plant the tulips during the fall or six to eight weeks before the ground starts freezing.
When choosing a planting site, you should ensure they are planted in well-drained soil. Tulips will not like damp soil. They just need the soil to be consistently moist.
Adding a layer of compost or mulch will help to improve drainage. It will keep the soil healthy.
Along with proper drainage, check the pH level too. Tulips prefer pH level neutral to slightly acidic, around 6.0 to 7.0. The soil should not be highly acidic. This can cause purple leaves.
To correct the acidity level, add wood ash or limestone powder to bring the pH level close to neutral.
Tulips don’t need a lot of water. Water them once a week with 1-inch water. Keep checking the moisture level. When the top 1-inch feels dry, you can water them again.
Don’t water in summers. As they remain dormant, watering in summers will cause overwatering and basal rot.
Tulips don’t need much fertilizer compared to other plants. Their bulbs already hold a lot of nutrients. Moreover, adding compost or mulch to the soil bed already makes the bed quite nutritious.
Still, if you want to feed them to give them extra fuel, you can use an all-purpose balanced fertilizer once in spring and fall.
When the flower and the leaves die, you can use a bulb fertilizer to boost the bulbs. This will prevent any nutrient deficiency and stop the leaves from turning yellow or purple.
Prune after they bloom
Once the flower blooms, remove it to save energy for the bulbs. Let the foliage die naturally. The bulbs will gather all the energy from the green leaves for blooming next year.
If the growing conditions are good, leave the bulbs in the ground. You can fertilize them once to boost them.
Take care of them during the off-season.
Cover the tulip bulbs with a layer of 1 to 2 inches of mulch and fertilize them with a slow-release fertilizer in the fall.
For providing the bulbs with extra fuel, you can give liquid fertilizer 3 to 4 weeks only after planting and once again when spring starts.
You can take it as a natural sign when the tulip leaves, stems, or even the flower turns purple. As I discussed earlier in the article, some varieties will mature and change color. They will also carry this flower through leaves and stems, like streaks.
However, when the leaves turn purple, it is either a phosphorus deficiency or basal rot. They need to be checked and treated within time. For the former, add bone meal or rock phosphate to increase the level.
For the latter problem, prevention is best. You can dig up the bulb and soak it in warm water and fungicide. Wait for some time or give the soil for a test. The purple leaves might not revive back. You can leave them on their own.
Follow the care guides I shared to avoid any problems in the tulips. With proper care and attention, your garden will always remain brightened with such beautiful cup-shaped jewels.