“What are some good fall-blooming bulbs? I can never seem to find any that bloom in the fall. Thanks.” Question from Brenda of Peterson, Iowa
Answer: There are quite a few fall bulbs that will grow well in your USDA Hardiness Zone 5a garden. Here are some of the best. Follow the links on each plant name for good bulb sources!
Fall Bulbs for Midwestern Gardens (Zone 5)
Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) and Yellow Spider Lily (Lycoris aurea) are two South African surprise lilies that bloom from late summer to fall and are hardy to zone 5. They look really lovely together and bloom on tall naked stems that give them a striking look in the garden.
Fall Crocus (Crocus spp.) come in all different colors and forms and look very much like their spring counterparts. Most are very hardy and some, such as Crocus kotschyanus, naturalize or spread in beds and lawns. One that I highly recommend is the saffron crocus(Crocus sativus) from which you can collect your own saffron! (Click here to learn more about growing saffron.)
Colchicum(Colchicum spp.) comes in lovely shades of pink, white, and lavender, and most are quite hardy. They look very much like giant crocuses, but they are surprisingly unrelated. The double-flowered ‘Waterlily‘ is especially pretty. The only downside is that these plants are toxic, so refrain from planting them if you have small children or pets that might handle or consume them. (Click here to learn more about Colchicum toxicity.)
Fall Snowflakes (Leucojum autumnale (Acis autumalis)) is a rare but wonderful fall-blooming bulb from the Iberian peninsula that is hardy to your zone. Its white, bell-shaped flowers look very springy and mingle well with other perennials.
“I tried planting bulbs (crocus, daffodils, tulips, and iris) in pots this year. They were well mulched and gathered in a warmer area of the garden near the house. Nothing came up! After investigating, it appears they became too wet and froze. The pots have great drainage. Any suggestions for next year will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!” Question from Jane of Bloomington, Illinois
Answer: Bulbs are adapted somewhat to freezing and thawing, but if they get too wet, they are prone to rotting, especially when temperatures are mild in fall and spring. There are several things that you can do to protect them from excess winter water. The easiest way is to simply store the pots under a patio or protective eave. You can also add more amendments, like Black Gold Perlite, to encourage faster drainage, but overhead cover gives one a bit more control. On the flip side, there is always a chance that they may become too dry under cover, so intermittent watering from fall to spring is recommended.
It is also advisable to protect your tulip and crocus bulbs/corms from rodents that enjoy munching on them in the winter months when food is scarce. Applying some repellent granules around the bulbs at planting time will help. From there, I recommend that you read Mike Darcy’s excellent article about creating layered bulb pots in the fall (click here to read).
From each fall-blooming crocus flower emerges three red, precious strands. These are elongated stigmas (female flower parts) otherwise known as saffron—an extraordinarily expensive aromatic spice popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. Continue reading “Just Wild About Saffron”