Fall and our mild coastal Texas winter is the time to pay attention to your bulb crops. I am going to use a very broad and liberal interpretation of the word ‘bulb.’ Most groups of serious horticulturists and bulb focused hobbyists would butcher my approach to this.
Let’s include most plants with strap-like leaves and some form of food storage structure underground. These are plants that naturally developed in areas of the world where seasons vary from mild and moist, to hot or cold, and wet or dry extremes. To survive, the plant needed to be able to retreat below ground for protection from the hard times. Think about it. SOUNDS LIKE TEXAS!
Many of these plants fall into a category we commonly refer to as a Lily. This is where things get really complicated. Only a few of these common garden acquaintances are a ‘true’ lily. If you want to improve your understanding of this body of knowledge, go online to search and read about ‘southern bulbs.’
A great source of bulb knowledge is ‘Garden Bulbs for the South’ – Second edition by Scott Ogden. He has been a recognized bulb expert for decades.
Most of our ‘lilies’ have finished their active season now and are beginning the retreat to safety. Important goals for most of these plants are to keep the leaves in place as long as they are green and healthy, and periodically lift and divide the multiplying bulbs. The healthy leaves keep energy flowing into the bulb so that the next round of flowers will be strong.
Dividing and re-planting the plants gives them room to perform their best as they multiply.
Withering foliage is a sign to get busy. Your gardening friends are waiting for you to dig and share your ‘pass-along’ plants with them. In my early life that was mostly the only way folks acquired new successful plants for their yard. They were shared, given, traded. The advent of commercial nurseries and garden centers has made this easier today.
This easy approach brings about another problem. If you are not an informed consumer, you may spend your money on plant starts that are not locally adapted. That was of little concern when you were getting ‘pass-alongs.’
This is especially true today as most bulbs sold are purchased from mail order catalogues. Notice the address on the catalogue. If it is from Yankee-land, you are likely wasting your money. Focus on regionally sourced, and locally adapted. Know what you want and shop from a specific list. Focus on the plant’s ability to naturalize or survive forever in your landscape.
The Bulb and Plant Mart in Houston (at St. John the Devine Church, 2450 River Oaks Blvd, Houston, Oct 14-16, 2021, (www.gchouston.org) signals the kick-off of the bulb season. Some of your favorite garden centers are also well stocked. Call ahead to verify. Don’t wait! Buy early while the selection is the best and the bulbs are the freshest. Always buy the largest bulbs you can afford. Bargain basement purchases in this category seldom give you the reward you deserve.
March Mart at Mercer Arboretum, Humble, will have an on-line bulb sale on March 20.
The Southern Bulb Company near Mineola sells on-line at www.southernbulbs.com. Mary’s Garden Patch near Lockhart is another on-line source at www.marysgardenpatch.com. These growers also offer periodic newsletters to help your knowledge.
Be observant. Notice the lilies and other bulb natives that already exist in your yard and roadsides. Several like ‘Crow Poison’ (little white) Lilies, Blue-eyed Grass, Herbertia (Wild Iris), Rain Lilies, Wild Onions, etc. Locate and mow around them to enjoy their blossoms at no cost.
Give them a chance to ‘seed out’ and spread naturally.
– Leon Macha is a consulting certified Horticulturist/Arborist with 40 plus years of experience in our region.