Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Bulbs are a favorite of all ages. Choose species and varieties that naturalize in your area for dependable carefree beauty year after year.

Bulbs Provide Easy Perennial Color

Bulbs are some of the easiest of flowers to grow in our landscapes. They provide years of enjoyment and add seasonal beauty like few other plants can. Now is the time to plant bulbs if you want to enjoy the fragrance, color, and beauty of their blooms next spring and summer.

Some bulbs, such as the standard tulips and hyacinths, for example, are best used as annuals because they tend not to naturalize in our warm southern climate. These are "one-shot" bulbs for us. Others are dependable perennials, returning each year out of nowhere to delight us again. I am personally a little partial to these naturalizing wonders.

Here are some tips to help you get off to a successful start with bulbs in your southern garden.

Bulbs for Naturalizing
Daffodils are a southern tradition like few other bulbs. A late-winter drive through the country past those old abandoned homesteads will give you a clue why. The house is gone, the chimney is crumbling, the landscape is overgrown by brush, but the daffodils are going stronger than ever! I have found many types of daffodils to be dependable and only a few that seem to fade away over a few years. Veteran gardeners in the area can tell you which ones do best in your particular soil and climate.

Other bulbs that have naturalized well for me include Dutch iris (a bulb-type iris), grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), hardy gladiolus (Gladiolus byzantinus), lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana), hardy amaryllis (Hippeastrum x Johnsonii), oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida), pink magic lily (Lycoris squamigera), red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), and summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum).

Selecting the Best Bulbs
It is important to choose healthy, quality bulbs. Second-rate bulbs produce second-rate flowers. Quality bulbs will produce flowers the first year after planting, as the blooms are already formed in the bulbs when you purchase them. Select bulbs that are large for their species and firm. I try to shop or order early while the selection is best.

Before planting bulbs, I work a few inches of compost into the soil. Slightly raised planting beds are worth the extra effort in the south, as our rainfall often comes in mini deluges! Bulbs can be a bit picky about their planting depth. When in doubt plant them at a depth of 3 times the width of the bulb. In sandy soil, set bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower. I usually mix a small handful of bone meal in the soil beneath each bulb. Then I mulch the area well with leaves and pine needles to discourage weed competition.

Then I go on my way and forget about them. They'll make their sudden debut in their appointed season with a surprising display of their own unique brand of beauty.

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