Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068  Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Bulbs for Florida - Forget Northern Favorites

Many northern gardeners upon arrival locally, attempt to recreate familiar surroundings by selecting old favorites from back home.  Unfortunately, this often leads to disappointment as they quickly realize to quote Dorothy, "Toto, I don't think we are in Kansas any more." This is especially true with many of many of the common bulbs of northern states such as tulips, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths.. Very often these bulbs flower poorly or not at all, even in northern Florida.

This does not mean that Florida gardeners have to forgo the pleasure of incorporating perennial flowering bulbs into their landscapes. As with many aspects of Florida landscaping, transplanted gardeners have to become familiar with new plants and learn new gardening techniques. Florida's climate is favorable for growing many tropical and subtropical bulbous plants. Florida gardeners can choose from a wide variety of bulbous plants that will thrive and produce beautiful flowers year after year with proper care. The warm season bulbs that flourish spring through fall are among the best kept secrets of Florida gardening. The number of bulbous plants is so great that the choice is not always simple.

One of the first to flower are the bell shaped red, pink and white amaryllis which produce some of our earliest spring blossoms.  Amaryllis produce tall multi-flowered stalks before their leaves  emerge.  These can be planted en masse in beds or scattered throughout the landscape to provide more than a month of springtime color.

Next up are the daylilies which begin to brighten the landscape from about April.  The yellow varieties are normally the first to flower and are followed over several months by varieties in shades of orange, pink, red, and bronze.  Care must be exercised to obtain varieties especially selected and breed for Florida to avoid disappointment.

The diminutive rain lilies emerge from dormancy with the onset of the rainy season.  These tiny jewels are reminiscent of crocuses and come with white, pink and rose colored blooms.  Rain lilies are members of the amaryllis family and can be scattered across the landscape in naturalized arrangements, or planted in beds or borders.

Exotic looking crinum lilies announce the summer season with fragrant trumpet shaped blossoms that resemble amaryllis.  There are many hybrids among the over 100 known species of crinum lilies that produce a range of  colors from white to deep rose including striped varieties.

Other easy to grow bulbs and bulb-like plants springing from corms, tubers and rhizomes include blood lily, caladiums, canna lily, elephant ears,  gingers, gladiolus, gloriosa lily, society garlic and the native spider and swamp lilies.

Bulbous plants can be used in landscapes as bedding plants for borders and flower beds or for cut flowers for indoor arrangements. In general, most bulbs thrive in a sunny location. However, some, such as caladiums, do best in partial shade.

Bed preparation is important for a successful bulb production. A well-drained soil is the first thing to be considered. If the site does not drain properly, raised beds should be employed. Soil for a bulbs should be tilled and amended by incorporating a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic matter such as peat, compost or well rotted manure, and 2 to 3 pounds of 6-6-6, or an equivalent amount of other complete fertilizers per 100 square feet of bed.  Once the site has been prepared, bulbs are placed with the points facing up over the area in neat rows or in naturalistic drifts for an informal garden effect. Space between bulbs varies with the species and the effect that the gardener wants.

If healthy plants and beautiful blooms are desired, continuing care must be given. Weeds can be controlled by spreading a 2 inch layer of mulch over the bed at planting time. Weeds that do grow through the mulch should be removed before they become firmly established in the bed.
General care includes fertilization once or twice during the growing season with a special bulb fertilizer or 2 or 3 lbs of 6-6-6 or an equivalent amount of other complete fertilizers per hundred square feet of bed. Water relations are a crucial phase of bulb growing, and it is important that plantings do not suffer for lack of water during times of growth and flowering. Except when bulbs are being dried off at the end of a growing period, keep the soil moderately moist at all times.

Bulbous plants are susceptible to damage by many diseases and pests. The most difficult diseases to control are insect transmitted viruses. Symptoms of virus infected plants are stunted growth, mottled or striped leaves, and malformed foliage and flowers. The only treatment for virus is to destroy infected plants and to control insect vectors.  Insects directly damage bulb plants and allow disease organisms into plant tissue. Chewing insects such as caterpillars and grasshoppers should be carefully monitored and controlled by hand picking. Pesticides should only be used when the infestation can't be controlled manually. It is important to keep the foliage intact after flowering as the leaves produce food which is stored for the next seasons blooms.

Gardeners looking for a dependable succession of floral color to accent their landscape would do well to consider incorporate bulbs into their plantings.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

Home                    Index