Bulb expert shares favorites by season

Lent lilies. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Lent lilies. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

I adore tulips.

The vivid reds, pinks, yellows and purples are hard to resist.

But I’m also cheap.

And tulips are a fleeting investment since they don’t rebloom in our warm climate.

But there are bulbs that do.

That’s what “Bulb Hunter” Chris Wiesinger talked about at a recent Northwest Master Gardener talk.

Chris is founder of the Southern Bulb Company (www.southernbulbs.com), which specializes in bulbs that thrive and return year after year in warm climates.

“They don’t last all summer long like a salvia would, but the intensity the color brings and the seasonal changes  and the memories they evoke and the fragrances that some of them have put them in a class all their own,” he said.

Chris started his business as a senior project while majoring in horticulture at Texas A&M University. Mentors advised him to look for treasures along country roads and at old home sites. There he found heirloom daffodils, gladiolas, rain lilies, crinums and hyacinths – bulbs that combine functionality with beauty.

“I love these bulbs because when you turn the water off on them they don’t die,” he said. “Natural rainfall will let them live for 150 years.”

And there’s a bulb that will bloom every month of the year, he said.

Here’s his list:

Fall to winter

  • Red spider lily. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Red spider lily. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida): blooms late August early September. Resembles a red spider lily.

  • Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata): These don’t like to be moved but will bloom again once they’re settled in. Other lycoris come in shades of yellow, white, orange and pink.
  • Autumn daffodil (Sternbergia lutea): Resembles a yellow crocus.

Winter

  • Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta): A December bloom, but not a favorite for Chris because they are often just about to bloom when a hard freeze hits and kills the flowers.
  • Narcissus italicus: A more cold-hardy paperwhite which isn’t as likely to be cut down by a freeze. Blooms in January.
  • Roman hyacinths (Hyacinth orientalis): Much smaller than Dutch hyacinths but an established clump will bloom for a month in late January/early February because each bulb sends up two to three flower stalks. Comes in white and purple.
  • Lent lily (Narcissus pseudonarcissus):  These February bloomers spread by division and seeds so will naturalize.
  • Sweeties (Narcissus jonquila): Another February bloomer that will naturalize.
  • Campernelle (Narcissus x odorus): A larger jonquil. One of the best narcissus for the solid gold look. Everything leaves them alone.
  • Grape hyacinths (Muscari neglectum): Will naturalize and make a carpet of purplish blue.
  • Grand Primo (Narcissus tazetta Grand Primo): Chris calls this late February/March bloomer the best  tazetta for the Southeast. Bloom three to four weeks.

Spring

  • Cemetery white iris (Iris albicans): This is the old-fashioned white bearded iris that blooms in mid-March. It doesn’t need a lot of water and has few demands. Mix with verbena to spice it up.
  • Byzantine gladiolas. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Byzantine gladiolas. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum): Dainty white bell-shaped flowers with a green dot on each petal bloom in mid-March and will naturalize.

  • Golden Dawn (Narcissus tazetta Golden Dawn): One of the few post-World War II bulbs Chris recommends, this one is both tough and has a nice fragrance.
  • Twin Sisters (Narcissus medioluteus Twin Sisters): An April bloomer, this one can get lost because weeds and other plants are up by the time it blooms.
  • Byzantine gladiola (Gladiolus byzantinus):  A hardy gladiola that doesn’t fall over and has seedlings that grow into blooming-size bulbs.
  • Hardy amaryllis (Hippeastrum x johnsonii): Also called the St. Joseph lily, this May bloomer has red trumpet flowers with white stripes.

Summer

  • Rain lilies (Zephyranthes and Habrathus): Blooms for both species are triggered by rainfall and it’s hard to trick them with a garden hose.
  • Crinums: Various hybrids are available, but Carroll Abbott and Mrs. James Hendry are Chris’ favorites. Be warned if you decided to dig a clump yourself – their bulbs are often so big and deep shovels are broken trying to get them out of the ground.

 

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