Seems like just yesterday I was posting photos and stories about how beautiful my spring flowering bulbs are blooming; and I told everyone that they had to wait for fall before they could purchase these bulbs for the next spring enjoyment. Who knew fall would creep up on us so fast? Fall bulbs are here!
I never understood why these spring flowering bulbs are called fall bulbs. To me they should be called spring bulbs, because they bloom in the spring. Regardless, these bulbs are stupendous. They produce the most spectacular flowers in spring but they have to be planted now in the fall to enjoy the show the following spring. I know, it’s hard to imagine how these brown bulbs can produce such gorgeous flowers six months from now.
Gardening with bulbs is a leap of faith. I mean, look at it, how do we know that the bulb once planted will do anything. It’s not like buying a plant where you already see the leaves and some flower buds, you know what it looks like and you know it should do fine once you plant it. But with bulbs, it really is a gardening leap of faith. We plant them and then wait patiently for something to happen. And we wait and wait for months, almost six months to see any action. We eagerly watch for the leaves to sprout, and if they don’t sprout we worry did the bulb survive? Is it even still in the soil? Maybe a critter ate it? Then in early spring when we are just about getting tired of the lackluster winter garden, we see signs of new leaves, we see color and flowers; and all this from those fall bulbs that we planted months ago the year before. The reward is worth the effort and patience.
I have been gardening for many years now, and I still wonder every time I plant these bulbs if they will bloom or not. I wait patiently as the months go by to see if the bulbs will leaf out and develop a flower bud. Honestly, this is what gardening is all about. The anticipation, the joy, and satisfaction of knowing that we have the ability to bring such beautiful plants to life and have a part in their success. I have been disappointed many times as well when after all that hard work the bulbs end up not blooming. Gardening tests all our emotions, and bulb gardening does this even more.
There are a few fall bulbs that do great in our mild California weather. After years of trying various bulbs I have come up with a list of my favorite spring flowering bulbs that I always recommend to friends. These bulbs never let me down. They are daffodils, freesias, ixia, and Dutch Iris. Not only will these bulbs multiply over the years to produce more spectacular flowers, they also put on a fabulous spring show in our gardens no matter what the weather conditions are. The key is to plant the bulbs in the fall so they have enough time to get established and develop strong roots to pump out some gorgeous flowers later. These are the bulbs that I turn to year after year for a reliable springtime flower show.
Daffodils: We are all familiar with the workhorse flower of the spring garden – daffodils. I’ve seen daffodils bloom in the toughest of conditions, they are relentless. In early spring I’ve seen daffodils blooming in office complexes, growing wild off the road, in every corner on every street and in every home. They are the most cheerful yellow flowers to look at. I did a blog post earlier this year on daffodils and how to plant them, check out these links to see what an amazing show daffodils can give you in the springtime, and also for some ideas on the myriad ways in which daffodils can be enjoyed in the garden. Growing Daffodils Daffodil Dreams at Filoli Gardens
Freesias: Another workhorse fall bulb is a freesia. Freesias come in a rainbow of colors and they look spectacular when in bloom in the spring garden. The bulbs are actually very small but the flowers that little bulb can pump out is pretty amazing. I did a post earlier this year when all my freesias were blooming in my garden and I also included a little tutorial on how to plant these little bulbs. To get an idea of how gorgeous freesias are in the spring garden, take a look at my earlier blog post titled Freesias
Ixia: This tiny bulb is another reliable spring flowering bulb. Typically ixias come in three colors: white, pale yellow and light purple. And just like freesias and daffodils these bulbs multiply over time producing more flowers with each passing year. If you are not familiar with ixia, take a look at my springtime blog post on ixia when it was blooming in my garden. Ixia
Dutch Iris: If you are looking for blue spring flowers that are tall, slender and stately, Dutch Iris are perfect fall bulbs to plant. Like other spring flowering bulbs, Dutch Iris is planted in the fall for a spring flower show. My only complaint with this bulb is that in our Bay Area, where our spring temperatures can be unpredictable, the flower doesn’t last long when temperatures warm up. Dutch Iris does not handle heat very well. So if you plant these blue beauties, it is best to plant them in shade. In my garden, Dutch Iris would bloom and be happy as long as the days were cool, but if we had a hot day, they fried instantly and the flower was done for the year. Give Dutch iris a try if you like slender tall blue flowers.
Hyacinth and muscari: I’ve tried growing hyacinth for years and I have yet to figure out what makes them tick. Sometimes I get gorgeous plump fragrant hyacinths while other years I get stunted flowers that look so bad that I just cut the flowers off. Now I don’t bother with these bulbs. I just wait for spring and buy already blooming gorgeous lush hyacinths from the nursery and enjoy them that way.
Tulips: This is one bulb that I love but has performed very badly for me. In our mild Bay Area winters tulip bulbs just don’t do well. I’ve tried and tried for years to grow these “lipsticks of the spring garden” but I have given up now. In our mild winters where we sometimes get many days of sunny and warm temperatures in December and January, tulip bulbs get confused and don’t know what to do – they prematurely bloom or sometimes not bloom at all. And in the end, they just give a lackluster performance. Tulips need cold winter temperatures until spring when they sprout and bloom beautifully. I’ve even tried cooling tulips in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks to fake the winter temperatures they need, before planting them outside. But if that year we have a warm winter, tulips bloom prematurely giving and average show at best. They need cold winters and mild spring temperatures. Finally after two decades of tirelessly trying everything to grow tulips, I decided there are some flowers that are just not meant for my garden 😞.
I still get tempted when I see photos of gorgeous tulips flowers on bulb packaging. But now I just buy a handful of bulbs and plant them in a pot or two. This way if they don’t do well I haven’t invested too much money or labor.
Fall bulbs are available now at all nurseries and at Costco as well. I encourage you to grab a few bulbs and plant them this fall. The reward next spring will be worth the wait. Just remember to plant them before the start of winter (January). This will assure that you get the best show next spring.