Fall is the time to be buying and planting spring, summer and fall flowering bulbs. Bulbs are like an investment account that you forget about until you get that dividend check, and wow, what a great surprise! If you plant them in the right location, you can enjoy their annual show for years to come.
Not all the plants we commonly call bulbs are true bulbs. Cannas are rhizomes, gladiolus is a corm, dahlias are tuberous roots, and daylilies have fleshy roots. These all have underground roots, but a true bulb is any plant that stores its complete life cycle in an underground storage structure—roots, food stores, shoots and buds.
All of these are colorful bloomers. What is most important is to know if they are “tender” or “hardy.” Tender bulblike plants like dahlias are planted in the spring and dug up for storage before frost. Hardy bulbs like daffodils easily tolerate freezing temperatures and are planted in the fall. So what should you plant now? There are so many it’s hard to decide, but here’s a few that I know do well here because they thrive in my garden with little care.
These include crocus, starflowers, lily of the valley (a rhizome), hyacinths, tulips and daffodils. I’ve listed these by height, just so you consider garden placement.
Crocuses are so short they have to be placed up front or in large masses or they may get overlooked.
Starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum) are one of my favorites and behave perfectly in my garden although many say they can be invasive.
I have a collection of lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) that I value because Isabella Cannon, former mayor of Raleigh and “little old lady in tennis shoes” gave them to me years ago. Summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) is a taller version of the lily of the valley and has green dots on each petal. It blooms after the snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) that share some resemblance.
There are tiny grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), fragrant common hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), and Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) that quite happily, maybe too happily, make themselves at home.
Tulips may not flourish here because of our heat (and they are a deer favorite), but I have had a number of them for several years and love the bright shout they give in spring.
I have several different colors of daffodils (the Narcissus genus includes daffodils, jonquils, and paperwhites, among others) ranging from intense yellow to off-white with a rose center.
Summer and Early Fall Bloomers
Plants include many in the Amaryllidacae family including crinums, Asiatic and oriental lilies, amaryllis (common and genus forms), and lycoris. It can be confusing combing through these choices, because they have some visual similarities and are often mislabeled. In general they grow very well here, loving full sun, tolerating dry spells, and producing glorious and huge flowers of all colors.
Lycoris squamigera, also known as Naked Lady or Surprise Lily, is one of my favorites, bursting through the ground in August with 2 to 3 inch spears, the spring foliage long dried and gone. Lycoris radiata is better known as the Spider Lily due to its spiky petals. Find the bulbs you like, make sure they are hardy in our area, and find suitable sunny spots around your garden. Purchase as many as you can manage, as they will make a stronger statement planted in groups.
The spring bloomers can be planted under deciduous trees since they need only early season sun. Prepare the soil well with lots of good compost and a soil test to determine lime (pH 6.0 to 6.5) and fertilizer needs. A small amount of fertilizer (1 teaspoon of a 10-10-10 per square foot) can be applied at planting and again when the foliage emerges.
A slate product like PermaTill can be mixed heavily in the soil around bulbs to thwart voles. Finally, do a simple map that lists what you planted and where so you don’t forget your underground bank account.
Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.