Fall Blooming Bulbs: At the Top of the Earth-Kind Landscaping Recommendations

By Boone Holladay, County Extension Agent-Horticulture

The discussion of landscape water conservation continues throughout the State. In most situations, we are challenged with keeping our plants alive through the excruciating summer heat, applying water to them just when we should be cutting back on our landscape water consumption. Considering the nature of our growing seasons, a perfect plant would perform for us in spring and fall and go virtually dormant in summer instead of winter, resulting in drastic water savings. Sounds logical, right?
As we are seeing these selected bulbs blooming this season, let’s showcase the fall bloomers. All of these blossom in fall and put on their foliage through the winter and go dormant around May. They then sleep through the summer heat and wake again once the temperatures start dropping back close to reasonable. Heavy fall rains and slightly cooler temperatures trigger them to push their delicate blooms from the ground. Here we go.
Lycoris is a genus with many species and colors. Most common is the species radiata, which is commonly known as red spider lily, hurricane lily, and naked ladies (blooming prior to the foliage appearing). Other species include colors of white, pink, yellow, and bi-colors. Most of the lycoris prefer a heavier loam clay soil and a little shade. Plant them just below the soil surface as they do not like to be planted too deep. As well, they are a little finicky the first year or two after planting, but once established, they bloom dependably and will multiply readily.
The second of the fall showcase is Rhodophiala, commonly referred to as oxblood lilies, hurricane lilies, or schoolhouse lilies (reference to their bloom timing when school is heading back into session). These bulbs are virtually indestructible, growing well in a
full range of conditions. I just wouldn’t plant them in water-logged soils, as they may rot out during dormancy. They bloom like crazy and offset a gang of new bulbs each year. They prefer to grow deeper, plant 6-10 inches deep.
The last of the fall showcase is a lesser known bulb, but equally as impressive. Sternbergia is commonly referred to as yellow fallcrocus or autumn daffodil. As with both of the prior, this species blooms before the foliage sprouts up, sending up a surprising quaint yellow chalice tulip-like blossom. It prefers a sandy/loamy soil with good drainage and may prove happier with light shade from after-noon exposure. Plant about 4-6 inches deep.
Plant all of these bulbs in a range of situations. They can be added to perennial beds for seasonal accent, planted along sidewalks or pathways, planted within groundcovers such as Asiatic jasmine, or directly in lawn turf. Something I have wanted to experiment with is placing them is shapes in turf for some nice seasonal artwork. Wherever you put these bulbs, they are sure to please, and with virtually no care needed.

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