Planting hurricane lilies and other bulbs in Florida

By Brenda Daly
 |  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

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