Ten bulb favorites for Texas

If you love flower bulbs, now is the time to plan and plant for the spring of 2016. Although we will never be able to create the rolling fields of hyacinths and tulips like the Dutch, there are still many wonderful bulbs that thrive in our mild winters and hot summers, and return bigger and better every year.  

Many gardeners like to add them to their existing beds as seasonal spot color, since most of them bloom for just a short period and then enter dormancy until the following year.  

The ten bulbs listed below are easy to care for. Generally, southern bulbs flourish in any well-drained soil. You can water them a little to help them bloom the best, but drought will usually not kill them. 

Some just wait patiently until the first good rain and then shoot up a bloom stalk within days. After blooming, allow the leaves to die back naturally and leave them alone: they are storing up energy for next year.   


1. Daffodils/Narcissus

Many of the hybrids, such as the pink or double varieties, will return to bloom for a few years. The heirlooms – standard yellows and paperwhites – will blossom for many years with little assistance.


2. Bearded Iris 

Although a rhizome and not a true bulb, you can’t get a better performer for Central Texas gardens. They’re mostly evergreen and I have yet to find one that doesn’t love our climate, whether the old-fashioned purple and whites or the fancier hybrids. Irises are highly fragrant when they bloom and are beautiful as cut flowers. Plant leaving half the rhizome exposed and with enough sun to ensure blooms.  


3. Peruvian Daffodil, Spider Flower Hymenocallis

These bulbs grow into large stands of white flowers atop long, strapping foliage and can be striking accent plants as well as a small hedge if happy enough. Their downfall (like many bulbs) is too much water, so make sure they are not planted in a low-lying area as some of our years are quite wet.   


4. Amaryllis

These traditional Christmas flowers are actually warm season bulbs that are bought during the Holidays to enjoy, but then can be planted outside in the spring.  Amaryllis are traditionally forced (tricked into blooming outside of their natural bloom cycle) so that they flower in winter even though they normally bloom in the spring and summer in Texas.  Pot them into a container and then transplant them to a morning sun bed in the spring. 


5. Spider Lilies (aka Hurricane or Schoolhouse lilies) Lycoris radiata 

They bloom after heavy rains in late summer or early fall and go dormant until the next summer. The foliage is an attractive green with a pale green central stripe. Lycoris is easy to grow and a great heirloom bulb.


6. Crinums 

These lilies are an old plant that many of our grandparents had in their gardens. The flowers are a starry bell shape and come in hues of pink and white and some are even striped. Crinums need a sunny spot to bloom and many can get quite large. . .  so give them plenty of space!


7. Muscari (grape hyacinth)

These smaller plants make good filler and bloom in the very early spring.  I have some growing under the water faucet in the flowerbed for a beautiful punch of color every spring.


8. Lily of the Valley, Snowflake Leucojum aestivum 

These old-fashioned bulbs should be grown more. They are the first to bloom in the spring (late winter for us) and the white/green flowers last for some time.  They can be grown in shade or sun and are very tolerant of a wide variety of soil types and moisture levels. Note: There is a larger-leaved bulbous plant also called Lily of the Valley that struggles here, so make sure the genus (Leucojum) is correct when buying.  


9. Oxblood Lilies Rhodophiala bifida

An heirloom flower found in many old cemeteries and homesteads. The red flowers appear on naked stalks in September or October depending on rainfall.  Although the flowers are fairly short lived they look stunning when you see them blooming under an oak tree en masse. Shade and neglect are not a problem for these hardy bulbs; in fact they thrive under these conditions.


10. Species Tulips 

 Although hybrid (florist-type) tulips are short lived here in Texas, we can do quite well with species tulips. They are more natural-looking and a little looser in form, but will bloom for many years in the right spot. I have mine mixed in with pots of spider lilies and amaryllis and they are quite happy.  


If you have a gardening question, send it to Chris via email: iathyme@yahoo.com. (Please put ‘Ask Chris Winslow’ in the subject line.) Or mail your letter or postcard to: Ask Chris Winslow. It’s About Thyme: 11726 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748 

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