Did you know you can grow bulbs year after year in Florida?
When we talk about bulbs, there are “true bulbs” and bulb-like plants. Your true bulbs are those plants that contain all the plant parts, such as roots, an underground stem, a flower bud and fleshy leaves. These plant parts are stored in an underground structure called a bulb. These underground storage structures make them very tough.
Examples of true bulbs include lilies, tulips, society garlic and amaryllis. Other “bulb-like” plants such as gladiolus and caladiums are comprised of corms, tubers, tuberous roots or rhizomes. For generalization purposes, most plant guides refer to both true bulbs and bulb-like plants as bulbs.
Picking the right bulbs for Florida can be a bit tricky. But, once you learn which bulbs are best for Florida, you can easily grow them and have color throughout the year. Not only do bulbs provide beautiful flowers, but they also have strappy leaves and interesting foliage. The different shades of green add structure, variety, texture and contrast to the garden.
Because of our tropical and subtropical growing conditions, you will want to plant bulbs that are adapted to our region for the best success. A great resource is the publication Bulbs for Florida available at UFDC.ufl.edu/IR00002886/0001. This guide provides information on selecting, planting, caring for and propagating bulbs. Table 1 lists bulbs that are most desirable and easiest to grow in Florida. Stick to this, and you will add diversity and beauty to your landscape.
Some of my favorite bulbs are African lily (also called agapanthus), amaryllis, blood lily, caladium, rain lilies and crinum. Be sure to read the cultural notes for the bulbs you choose, because the notes include additional tips on care, location and pest control.
If you want to experiment, try planting some bulbs from Table 2, or as UF/IFAS refers to them, “Bulbs for the Avid Gardener.” These bulbs may be a bit more challenging, but they are worth trying. One bulb that I am going to try from this list is a favorite cut flower- Alstroemeria.
Avoid growing bulbs — or giving bulbs as gifts — that do not grow well in Florida due to our temperatures and warm winters. These bulbs, such as tulips and some lilies, will not receive the cold temperatures they need to grow well and bloom.
Some of my favorite Florida gardens contain bulbs that are planted in clumps among other landscape plants. Imagine looking out at a backyard garden and seeing shell ginger, crinums, irises and amaryllis among traditional shrubs such as hibiscus or plumbago.
I use bulbs to brighten shady spots and add them to bouquets. Many times, I am surprised by them when they pop up. Most bulbs grow well in sun to part shade.
When planting bulbs, make sure to plant the right side up. Follow spacing and fertilizer recommendations. Bulbs such as amaryllis will produce seed heads after flowering, and if left on the plant, they will reduce the amount of flowers next year. In order to have more blooms, cut off old flowers and seed heads. However, resist the urge to cut off yellow leaves until they turn completely brown because these leaves are making and storing food or energy for the bulb.
Eastern lubber grasshoppers are one of the biggest pest problems with bulbs like lilies and crinums. Control them when they are young nymphs, rather than when they are large grasshoppers. Handpicking is the least toxic method of control. When young, these grasshoppers congregate on the plants in the morning and evening, and this makes them easy to remove. Pests such as aphids and mealybugs can be controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Fungal problems, such as rust and anthracnose, often develop during periods of high rainfall or are spread by wind. If the disease persists, apply a fungicide for disease control.
Bulbs add color and interest to the garden, and they are easily propagated. Depending on the bulb, you can propagate them by division, offsets, bulblets or cuttings. Plus, you will have bulbs to share with friends and family, or to transplant and fill up pots or sparse areas of your garden. Growing bulbs in Florida is easy and enjoyable.
For more information on this topic, check the following reference, which was a primary source for this column: “Is this a bulb? The difference between bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and other bulb-like plants.” Visit GardeningSolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/is-this-a-bulb.html.
Nicole Pinson is an Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County. She gratefully acknowledges Judy Gates, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County Master Gardener for her help in preparing this article. For additional information, you can reach Pinson at (813) 744-5519, ext. 54145.
Published June 1, 2016