What Are Some Good Fall-Blooming Bulbs?

Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata) is a very pretty bulb the blooms in late summer and fall.

“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.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Why Won’t My Red Spider Lilies Bloom?

“I have red spider lilies that have never bloomed.  How can I get them to bloom?” Question from Teresa of Rincon, Georgia

Answer: Late-summer-blooming red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are really lovely with their bare scapes of spidery red flowers. Do yours produce nice, lush foliage early in the season, and have they been in the ground for long? Either way, there are several reasons why they may not be blooming.

1. Not Enough Time to Establish: These bulbs are finicky and don’t like to be transplanted, so it can take several years after planting for them to bloom in full glory. If you planted them within the last couple of years, give them more time.

2. Planting Depth: If your spider lilies are planted too deep, they may not flower. The necks of the bulbs should be just below the soil surface. Any lower and they may not bloom well for you.

3. Leaf Health: Damage to the leaves after they emerge in fall, too much shade (planted under evergreens, for example), or too much nitrogen could also keep plants from flowering.

4. Cold Days: Have your winters been warmer? You are right on the cusp of the right southerly hardiness zone for these flowers. Some list them as being hardy within USDA Hardiness Zones 6-10, and others list them as being hardy within Zones 6-9. If these days don’t get enough chilling days in winter, then this can keep them from flowering properly.

It’s also important to know their planting preferences. Site them in a location with full to partial sun and fertile, humus-rich amended with good compost, such as Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, or Peat Moss. Be sure to feed them with a fertilizer formulated for bulbs to encourage best growth and flowering.

I hope these tips help! Please feel free to follow up with any additional questions or comments.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith and Russell Stafford

Black Gold Horticulturists