Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bulbs of FLA...

Because we can't grow (perennially, in any case) tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, there's a strange idea common to Central Florida that we cannot grow bulbs at all. That's far from the truth, though gardeners need to choose their bulbs carefully. (Now, of course, the pictures above and the discussion here is not limited to bulbs, but includes rhizomes (and their ally, the tuber) and corms. These are distinct storage organs, but from the gardener's perspective, there's really little difference.) As a rule of thumb, we can grow virtually any bulb if planted at the right time of the year, including tulips and daffodils. However, many bulbs from temperate climates can't cope with Florida's heat, humidity, and "soil." Bulbs from the southern hemisphere, particularly from South Africa, do very well here. I don't mean this to be a comprehensive list, but here goes with the bulbs I have grown in my garden, with some comments on their performance:
  • Ranunculus asiaticus (Persian buttercups): Plant as soon as cool weather starts. I remember reading somewhere that the name means little frog (rana in Latin). That might incline you to believing that they grow in marshy, wet soil (which would be entirely wrong -- they're actually sold as xeriscaping bulbs); I think the name more likely comes from their star-shaped, crinkled rhizomes, which look a lot like little frogs. I planted these in too shady a spot this year, and by the time they bloomed, we started to have our typical intermittent heat waves. Still, I had several dozen lovely blooms for a small investment. Next year -- rich soil, full winter sun, plant in early November.
  • Dahlias: This is my first year growing them, as many gardeners and books had instructed me that they don't grow here. Nonsense. The trick for me at least was to plant them (in full sun and fairly rich soil) at the beginning of February: They started to bloom in mid-April. There was the risk that a late frost might have killed them, though. I bought cheap, generic tubers from Lowes, but have been very happy -- I have 6 plants growing, two blooming; the others are too small to bloom now, but might still do so this season. (They are the yellow and burgundy blooms in the photos above.) I mistakenly divided the tubers when I probably should have kept them all together. I predict that these will continue to bloom as long as they are watered well. I'll pull them as soon as it's obvious they are rotting (which they will inevitably do, once the rainy season starts).
  • Dietes (several species): My comments from Daves Garden:
Sturdy, ultra-low maintenance plant here in Central Florida. It grows rapidly -- even very small, one-gallon plants grow within three years to 2-3' or more in diameter.
Grows best in filtered light here in FL (direct sun farther north), but I have it in full direct sunlight in the swale and it's doing well in those tough conditions, though the leaves are not as deep green. Flowers best in sun, but even in full shade it flowers and grows. Blooms in flushes, with large flowers in the cool season and smaller ones when it's hot. Makes a beautiful cut flower, though lasts only one day.
It does self-sow, but the seedlings are easy to recognize and shallow-rooted.
Note: These plants, when large, are VERY difficult to dig and divide. I have dug and divided monster clums of 4' -- it took me more than an hour to pull the plant out of the ground and another hour to cut the plant into manageable clumps. That said, the one large clump produced 10 medium plants that are now filling a bed.
  • I can't praise highly enough the freesia I bought from They have provided a full spring of blooms. In my garden they grow in completely unimproved, though heavily mulched, soil under partial shade. They aren't demanding, don't take up much space with their small, sword-like foliage, and have already put out new growth. They say you can leave them in the ground, and given their relatively low price, I'll give it a shot this year.

  • To be continued...


LindaD said...

This was very helpful.. and inspiring. I'm going to the website you recommended on GW and find some freezias.. Hope you continue with notes on other bulbs you've tried. LindaA

Anonymous said...

Old post, but still a helpful one.

Just to add a little more Ranunculus gets its name because the majority of the species in the genus do prefer damp soil; there are even some that are fully aquatic.

Unknown said...

I am late in planting. Can I plant the bulbs end of Feb in Central Florida?