Q.: I know crocus blooms in early spring, but aren’t there also crocus varieties that bloom in fall? What other bulbs bloom in fall?
A.: Hardy fall-blooming bulbs that can be grown successfully here include Autumn Crocus and species of Hardy Crocus as well as Red Spider Lily, Hardy Cyclamen and Winter Daffodil.
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) – Better known as “naked lady,” this bulb got its nickname because the flowers emerge from the ground long after the leaves have died back. Bright flowers, usually white or lilac, suddenly rise from the soil on 8-inch stems that have no foliage. The flowers look much like spring blooming crocus. Plant them immediately upon receipt about 4 inches deep and 8 inches apart, as they can bloom without being planted.
Hardy Crocus species – There are many varieties of fall, summer and spring blooming crocus, which are valued for their time of bloom. Many species naturalize freely from corms and by self-seeding. They come in many colors and some are fragrant. Most grow on 4-inch stems. They should be planted in fall about 2 inches deep and 2-3 inches apart.
Red Spider Lily (Lycoris Radiata) – Like summer blooming Surprise Lily (Lycoris squamigera), the foliage of Red Spider Lily appears in early spring and dies back to the ground by early summer. Then in late summer or early fall a shoot up to 2 feet tall will suddenly appear and bloom. Plant these bulbs in fall about 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
Hardy Cyclamen (C. purpurascens, C. hedrifolium, C. cilicium, and C. repandum) – Miniature relatives of the florists’ cyclamen, these hardy bulbs are excellent for naturalizing in shady areas. Blooms have 4 to 5 inch stems and range in color from white to crimson. Tubers, which should be planted in spring 1 to 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, may go dormant in mid-summer under hot, dry conditions. Bloom time is early to late fall.
Winter Daffodil (Sternbergia lutea) – This underused bulb is often mistaken for Autumn Crocus. Valued for its early fall yellow blooms on 6-inch stems, foliage is produced in fall and stays green during winter. This plant grows best in full sun. Bulbs planted in fall about 2 inches deep and 3 inches apart can remain undisturbed for years.
Always buy healthy bulbs from a reputable dealer. Bargain bulbs are no bargain. Choose a site with adequate light where bulbs will look good in the landscape. Rock gardens are excellent.
Good drainage is essential for bulbs. Most prefer a moist, well-drained medium sandy loam that does not remain wet and sticky after a heavy rain or dry out too quickly. Test the bed by filling a foot-deep hole with water. The next day, fill it again. If it drains in 8 to 10 hours, it has sufficient drainage to grow bulbs. If not, or for sandy or heavy clay soil, incorporate several inches of peat moss, aged pine bark, compost, perlite or vermiculite to a depth of 12 inches. For extreme cases install drainage lines or build raised beds.
A pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for most bulbs. In the absence of a soil test, add 1 to 2 pounds of
5-10-10, 10-10-10, or 8-8-8 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Plant bulbs pointy side up and tubers on their sides with roots down and press the soil firmly around them. Water the beds thoroughly and during dry spells. Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch. A well-prepared bed should require little cultivation except periodic weeding, although most all bulbs and tubers will eventually need dividing.