>Bulbous type plants are one of the most overlooked options for the garden. I confess, this is one area of gardening in which I don’t practice what I preach. Changes are on the way! How well we, who have lived in colder climates, remember the gorgeous daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocus, snowdrops, etc that were harbingers of spring, but don’t think of using bulbs in our central Texas garden albeit different choices.
The truth of it is that we can have bulbous plant blooms that cover the entire garden season, from early spring until late fall. I look at bulbous plants as finishing touches to our ornamental gardens in central Texas, whereby the garden is not dependent on them for color or texture, but when they bloom, add an exciting accent to the palette. For those open areas between other garden plants, or to provide temporary color to an area of dormant perennials – however bulbous plants may be used as garden accents, there are choices ranging from a few inches to 3+ feet in height, sun or shade, and durable within the extremes of heat and cold, wet and dry periods we endure in central Texas. Once established, little to no further care is required!
Although I don’t intend to provide a glossary of horticultural terminology, one area of confusion is the definitions of various specialized underground roots containing food storage systems to sustain them through dormancy periods also known as “geophytes”. These include many common garden perennials that we grow. Let’s become botanically correct by differentiating these types of plants.
BULBS: A bulb is like a seed inasmuch as a new plant generates from the embryo contained within (all the plant structures and nutrient for growth waiting to emerge when conditions are right). Most bulbs are round, contain a thin scaly covering. A pointed end should always be pointing upward for stems to emerge and the other end develops new roots for the maturing plant. (Examples: Amaryllis, Crinum, Lilies, Narcissus, Oxalis, Dutch Iris, and Onions)
CORMS: These are flattened swollen underground stems, the tops of which are generally flat. Corms have scale-like leaves that protect the dormant plant but do not store food. (Examples: Gladiolus, Freesias, and Crocosmia)
RHIZOMES: These are swollen horizontal underground stems with roots. They can be most any shape, slender or thick, all of which have buds on the growing end. (Examples: Canna, Calla, Iris, and carrots!)
TUBERS: Thick, often lumpy structures that are fatter and shorter than rhizomes and contain growing buds on the on the surface in non-specific locations. (Examples: Caladium, cyclamen, dahlia, and yes, potatoes!)
TUBEROUS ROOTS: Thick root sections sometimes held in clusters from which new plants can generate from a single root structure. (Examples: Agapanthus, Daylily, Tuberous Begonias)
There are many lists of suggested plants in these categories from many excellent sources so I won’t attempt to recreate another, but offer some suggestions for easy to grow choices for those beginning to use bulbous plants as part of their year-round garden.
Early spring( plant in fall): Paper-white Narcissus. These are clusters of small daffodil shaped blooms on a single terminal stalk. Daffodils are truly a species of Narcissus but most require cold treatment to initiate bloom which we don’t have in central Texas, however the Paper-white Narcissus seem to bloom regularly and reliably in our warmer region without special treatment. These will be the first to announce spring is coming.
Spring (plant in fall or very early spring): Iris (most varieties), Gingers (when warm enough)
Early Summer (plant in fall or very early spring): Daylilies rule! Iris, Lilies, Canna, Crinum and Gladiolus byzantium (hardy gladiolus).
Summer (plant in early spring): Caladiums for colorful foliage (require winter digging), Agapanthus (dwarf and tall), Cannas, Crinum spp, Calla, Bletilla (Ground Orchid), Dietes (African Iris). Amaryllis (Johnsonii – the hardy Amaryllis, and other South African hybrid varieties), Hymenocallis (Spider Lily)
Early Fall (plant in spring): Rhodophiala bifida (Oxblood Lil), Lycoris radiata (aka naked ladies)
Fall (plant in late summer): Cyclamen will bloom into late fall, however they must be protected from the summer heat (dug and stored over summer)
Spring through Fall (plant fall through spring): Zephyranthes and Habranthus hybrids (Rain Lilies), Society Garlic. The exact time any bulbous plant will bloom is dependent on climate and environmental conditions.
Bulbs not recommended include Tulips, Daffodils, Snowdrops, Hyacinths, Crocus, or others requiring a freeze period. Oh, they can be chilled, planted, and bloomed as annuals by taking up space in your freezer to duplicate the chilling requirement, but it’s a lot of work for a short period of bloom in spring.
Bulbous plants should be divided every two to three years when the plant goes dormant. The nice thing about bulbous plants is that they are easily shared with fellow gardeners as they multiply. When investing in new bulbous plants, take time to research their climate tolerance, adaptability, soil type/water and drainage needs, light requirements, and period of bloom. Also, after blooming, the foliage should be left alone – not trimmed off – to allow the plant to produce food needed for storage during natural dormancy and for production of new flower buds for the next growing season. Only trim off foliage when it has died.
Some bulbous plants that are purely tropical but add a lot of color to your warm season garden include the ever popular Caladium (shade only), Dahlias, and Montbretia/Crocosmia, and tropical gingers to mention just a few.
Bottom line is that you can have pleasant surprises pop up in your garden at different times of the year to add to the variety, but not take away from the evergreen and more permanent plantings that show year round. Working bulbs and bulbous plants into the garden palette offers yet another way to creatively create a year round garden of interest and beauty. See what I mean – examples below!