| For the Times-Union
Tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs are at the garden center now. Do I plant my spring bulbs immediately?
You are learning why gardening in Florida is so different. Many of the things that are available at some garden centers are not meant for Florida’s warm, humid climate.
Unfortunately, all those bulbs need a chilling period. Tulip, large flowered daffodil and hyacinth bulbs can be grown as annuals in Florida, but must be pre-chilled. A separate refrigerator would be ideal so you can control the temperature and keep them away from ripening fruit, as ethylene gas affects the bloom. Even then, if we have a warm spring, the blooms may not last long.
One bulb you might find at the garden center is Paperwhite narcissus. They are sold nationally as an annual to force inside. Paperwhites are a perennial in Florida and will naturally bloom around Christmas when planted in your yard.
Check out local plant nurseries for suitable bulbs. If you order from national catalogs, check the growing conditions needed. Zone 9 in California has different growing conditions than our zone 9 in Florida. One bulb you might find is Lycoris (hurricane lilies), which are blooming now. They are called hurricane lily because they bloom in late summer or fall when we are getting tropical system rains. Local nurseries frequently carry these bulbs. Lycoris radiata is the classic red hurricane lily. Lycoris aurea is also called golden spider lily. Both have a bare flower stalk that appears first and then the leaves grow through the winter.
Other bulbs that are blooming now, with our rainy summers are the rain lilies, the pink and yellow ones. They seem to bloom in the summer and fall with cycles of rain. White rain lilies include spring blooming Florida natives of Zephyranthes atamasca and Zephyranthes simpsonii. The other rain lilies are native to the southwest United States, and Central and South America. All will self-seed and naturalize. The two main Genera are Zephyranthes and Habranthus. There are many species of rain lilies and many hybrids. Hybrids do self-seed, but their offspring will be different. For instance, I started with dark pink hybrid Zephyranthes, but now I have lots of offspring that are pale pink.
Daffodils normally need winter chilling, but these low chill varieties will bloom in Florida: Carlton, February Gold, Trevithian, Erlicheer and Paperwhites. Other zone 9 small flowered Narcissus in the Tazetta class might be worth a try.
The bulbs are going to have a dormant period, with no above ground growth. You also need to let their leaves naturally age from green to brown for their dormant period. If you have a manicured landscape, you might want to camouflage their aging leaves. You also need to remember where you planted them, so you don’t damage the bulbs by digging or overwatering them while dormant.
One method is to plant them in a low ground cover, where you can gently rake the brown leaves away and limit watering. Another method is to plant them behind annual or perennial flowers that will grow and camouflage the aging leaves. Just use a drip irrigation on the annual or perennial part of the bed. Some of the ways to mark the location of dormant bulbs are a different colored mulch over the bulbs, small stones placed around the outside of the area, or use plant labels. I use pieces of broken pots around the area.
The above bulbs are fall, winter and early spring bloomers. We have other bulbs that will bloom in spring and summer. The Amaryllis that you received as a Christmas blooming plant, can frequently be planted in your garden after danger of frost in the spring. It will readjust its bloom cycle and dormant period and bloom in spring and early summer. The potted Easter lily can also be planted out after the holiday. It will also readjust its dormant and bloom cycle to Florida weather. It may not bloom exactly at Easter, but will still bloom the next year in the spring.
For summer, Crinum lilies are a classic garden staple in the South. There are many species and hybrids available. Blooms come in white, shades of pink and bicolors, and frequently repeat bloom. Crinum Milk and Wine is a Southern classic, having white blooms with red strips. Crinums are a long-lived permanent addition to your landscape, so pay attention to mature size, as some can get 6 feet tall and wide. I once saw a tall hedge of Crinum asiaticum used as a bulk head along an ocean front property. Our native Crinum americanum has white flowers and requires moist soil. Some people confuse these two species, but their growth is entirely different, though their white flowers look similar.
A good substitute for flowering onion is Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), which blooms spring, summer and fall. It’s evergreen and doesn’t need the chilling that many of the flowering Allium need. Other flowering onions that are usually used in your herb or vegetable garden are chives, Allium schoenoprasum and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum).
You can enjoy bulbs year-round in Florida, not just in spring. Gardeners frequently lump corms, tubers, and rhizomes in with bulbs, since they are all underground storage for plants. The following link will help you decide on even more bulbs for your garden: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_bulbous_flowers.
Brenda Daly is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and ask for a Master Gardener Volunteer.