Spring bouquet of paperwhites and daffodils, photo by Pam Sawyer
March 7, 2014
By Pam Sawyer
Many moons ago when I first moved to Tallahassee I often heard people saying bulbs won’t grow here. Well, it can be wet in winter and hot in summer. And it doesn’t get all that cold either. All of these things can make a bulb lose hope. But you might say bulbs are like people, different strokes for different folks. And lucky for us, some bulbs like it here and take up residence. Others will stay awhile, some only a season.
Bulbs are high class; they have standards. First, they demand well-drained soil. Second, it helps to fertilize them at the right time, usually when the first leaves push out of the ground and when they are done blooming. Third, they all have light requirements, somewhere between full shade and full sun. If you pick their spot carefully, they may stay awhile. Some may outlive you.
My favorite spring bulbs are caladiums. They are grown for the large, colorful leaves which come in many shades of white, green, pink and red. Mostly they prefer shade, but some varieties will tolerate sun. You plant them in April when the soil is warm enough and they will last until the fall. Some of mine come back every year, but mostly they don’t. To keep them from rotting, you can dig them up in October and keep them in the garage until next April. I just buy them again each year. Some people might say I am lazy, but I prefer to think of myself as busy.
For summer cutting flowers I plant gladiolas. They come in every color except blue and purple. The corms are about as wide as a golf ball and flattened. They like sun and so I usually plant them in the vegetable garden with the squash, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and cucumbers. I guess because the beds were raised and they got lots of fertilizer, sun and water, the corms grew to the size of baseballs last year. It was unbelievable. I think they are fine left in the ground, but sometimes I end up digging them up and storing them because I change out the beds in the vegetable garden.
Another easy summer bulb is the native atamasco lily (Zephyranthes atamasco). You see its white lily-like blooms in the ditches along the roadsides after a summer rain. It blooms repeatedly throughout summer and likes part to full sun. Basically if you did nothing but plant it, it would grow. It waits for the rain and doesn’t seem to need fertilizer. Natives are my kind of plant, beautiful and undemanding.
August and September bring the blooms of hurricane lilies (Lycoris radiata). In the right place these bulbs may outlive the gardener. They are drama queens, coming right out of the ground after rain in August and September on a single bare stalk, large and red and spidery. The leaves come afterwards and stay until spring. They like sun best but will tolerate part shade. I plant and divide them in the fall when the leaves are up, the only time when I know where they are.
Of course the best bulb to plant in the fall is Narcissus, otherwise known as daffodils and paperwhites. There are literally thousands from which to choose and they don’t all grow well here. Luckily for us Floridians, it is easy to know which narcissus to plant because a couple of our local gardeners have done all the research for us. In Daffodils in Florida: A Field Guide to the Coastal South Linda and Sara Van Beck tell you everything you need to know to grow this very long lived bulb. Daffodils are planted in October and bloom in winter and early spring.
Well, that’s it. No room left for Spanish bluebells or African blood lilies or Amarcrinums or Easter lilies or any of the other marvelous bulbs you can grow here. I guess you’ll just have to get out there and do some digging and discovering for yourself. Happy gardening!
Pam Sawyer is a Master Gardener and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov