Flowering bulbs are not often thought of as an option for a traditional Florida landscape. Many newly planted Floridians assume that bulbs are best left to areas of the country where cool weather prevails in the winter months. I thought I kissed bulb gardening goodbye once I left the hills of Tennessee and settled into a subtropical environment. Boy was I wrong as there are a myriad of subtropical and even temperate and tropical bulbs that perform beautifully in central Florida. While tulips, hyacinths and bearded iris are best left to our northern friends, we can plant caladiums, amaryllis, Louisiana iris and more with abandon.
The fleeting beauty of the flower along with a dormant resting stage is perhaps the most captivating feature of bulb gardening. It seems like magic that an intricate and sometimes delicate flower can sprout from a nondescript, brown bulb of compressed stem tissue. The ephemeral beauty and seasonality of flowering bulbs creates an extra special gardening experience.
The term bulb is used loosely when referencing bulb gardening as the plants discussed below, are not true bulbs, but rhizomes instead. Rhizomes, corms, tubers, tunicate bulbs, and non-tunicate bulbs are all referred to as bulbs or bulb-like plants.
The right plant in the right place applies to bulbs as it does with all plants. Many Florida bulbs prefer well drained, organic soil in dappled shade with minimum inputs of water. But it all depends on the bulb. For instance, Louisiana iris and blue flag iris need considerable moisture and can even tolerate and grow in standing water. Most bulbs do not prefer wet conditions and need a well-drained, full-sun site, like the African iris.
Irises recommended for Florida offer as much variety in their blooms as they do their preferred growing conditions. Blue flag iris will reward the grower with vibrant blue flowers on bright green, spiky stems. Louisiana iris comes in a plethora of colors and African iris yields bright white or cream blooms containing flecks of purple and yellow in the center of each flower.
Spider lilies are another bulb displaying thick, strappy green leaves. The blooms are bright white in color with linear, spider-like protrusions bordering each flower. Plant these in the garden or along the upper edge of a retention pond or lake. Spider lily is tough as it can grow in well-drained soils, but can also be planted along the water’s edge.
Join us for our Saturday in the Gardens Speaker Series Nov. 16 at 9 a.m., as we present “Florida Bulb Gardening” at the UF/IFAS Extension, Lake County Office, 1951 Woodlea Road in Tavares. We’ll discuss the selection and care of bulb and bulb-like plants that can be grown successfully in central Florida. Registration is required online (fee is $5) at https://bit.ly/2qNUfws,or $6 at the door by cash or check (make check payable to the University of Florida).
A Master Gardener Bulb Plant Sale will be held from 10 a.m. to noon the same day. Unusual bulbs at great prices will be available, but quantities are limited. You do not have to participate in the class to attend the sale.
Brooke Moffis is the residential horticulture agent of the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension office. Email email@example.com.