Bulbs produce some of the most beautiful flowers in the garden palate. They can provide brilliant splashes of cheerful color in the winter and spring months. In the Southwest bulbs can be grown in the landscape, in containers on the patio, or indoors.
Bulbs Time their Growth
Many desert plants appear in a very specific season – like just after a rain in the coldest soils, or in late spring in sun-warmed soils.
The bulb plants leaf out, flower, and store as much energy as they can in their underground tissues. Once this accomplished they retreat underground to wait almost a full year before emerging again. These plants appear for a very short time above ground, then retreat underground for naps that are months and months long!
Plants that do this can be very seasonal – depending on both soil moisture and soil temperture for flowering. By emerging and flowering at different times they can be sure of capturing the attention of the pollinators they need to have healthy genetic offspring.
Bulbs can have very specific emergence time, so when you shop – try to get some for early, middle, and late spring. You can plant them in the same bed, next to each other, and they will wow you with continuous color for months.
Some of these “bulbs” aren’t really bulbs, but for ease of discussion, I will call them all bulbs in this article.
Science Nerd Shares: What is a Bulb?
Technically, a bulb is just one type of underground storage organ. Bulbs are composed of swollen, fleshy leaves, like an onion. Plants have other types of underground storage devices based on stems. These are called rhizomes, tubers, and corms.
Plant these Bulbs in Fall
Remember our theme that we want the Right Plants for the Right Places.
Right Plants for Our Dry Climate
Get the right bulb plants for your place. In general, bulbs with hot climate ancestors will do better than their European cousins. Thus, desert tulips such as Turkish or Israeli tulips will do better than Dutch tulips. Dutch bulbs have been breed for the past five centuries to thrive in cold, wet climates.
Plant in the right place. Not all sun is created equal. In the desert Southwest, our sun can heat and dry the soils in excess of what is appropriate for many bulbs.
This list is offered as a free downloadable PDF on my Gardening With Soule Membership Club site. It is a two step process. First you have to sign up for the overall site (the “university”), then come back and download the individual “class.”
Once you have done this, there are any number of free classes that will appear there for you to take. Yes, this valuable information is not behind a pay wall (yet). Some paid classes are there too – And I hope you will consider one.
Plant in the right soil. Drain it right. Proper drainage is absolutely essential for bulbs. Sandy soils are ideal, but if your soil is more clay, amend the soil. To amend, simply mix in organic matter such as compost or peat moss, plus perlite or sand will help too. Amending the soil is the hardest part of growing anything in in our desert region, but once you have loosened the soil the first time, planting anything will be easier. Amending the soil also improves the area for later planting of other colorful plants.
Plant it the right depth. Planting depth is important to bulbs. If your bulbs don’t come with instructions, the best rule of thumb is that the bulb should be planted two to three times as deep as it is tall. Thus a 2 inch bulb (from rootlets to pointy tip) should be planted with the growing tip 4 to 6 inches below the top of the soil.
Water it right. Allow the soil to dry fairly well between waterings, but not bone dry. Drying allows oxygen to filter into the soil, and the bulbs need plenty of oxygen for emerging from the bulb and flowering. Once bulbs show green leaves, keep the soil a little more moist. They will reward the extra attention with a longer season of flowering.
General Care for Your Bulbs
Virtually all of the bulbs listed will survive in the ground all year long (especially if the drainage is good). That said – they will store ample energy if you take the time to fertilize them. Yep, me, the Darwinistic Gardener who rarely fertilizes anything, tells you to fertilize your bulbs.
Important tip. You have to tolerate brown “unsightly” leaves. Bulbs need to take all the energy out of their leaves and store it in their underground bodies or they will not survive. Chop off that unsightlyness and you may kill the bulb. Besides – later birds can use those leaves for nesting.
Fertilizer for Bulbs
Once bulbs are above ground that’s when to fertilize. Start the season with bloom fertilizer, and once blooms are done, switch to a general purpose fertilizer.
Slow release fertilizers? Sure if you want to help all the surrounding plants for the next five months while you wait for your bulbs to emerge. Most slow release fertilizers last in the soil about 9 months.
Protect Your Bulbs
Javelina love some nice tasty bulbs. Doesn’t matter how toxic these bulbs are said to be – those pesky javelina have dug up and eaten every unprotected bulb I have ever planted. Even the ones I hid in the center of rock piles. Makes me wonder how our native and charming mariposa lily and delicate blue dicks ever survive in the wild.
Bulbs in Containers
Containers and bulbs go well together and can really spruce up the yard. Large or small containers are fine, just be sure that drainage holes are adequate, and don’t block the holes!!! (You can put a piece of insect screen over the holes to keep ants and soil mosqiutoes (you tube video)out.
Potting soil should be mixed with perlite, or vermiculite, or just sand, but a cactus mix potting soil will do well. Planting depth is the same. Water should be thorough, and some should come out the bottom drain of the pot. Do allow the soil to dry between watering to allow good aeration.
Here’s a Gardening Trick
Set a pot of bulbs down under the soil of an outdoor bed (and remember to water it). Once the blooms start to appear, the pot can be carefully dug up and brought on to the patio or indoors to enjoy.
“OMG a bag of bulbs is ten dollars!”
But consider – just how much is a good meal at a decent restaurant? Spouse and I just spent $50 for the two of us – not including the tip. I guarantee that you will enjoy those five bags of bulbs for a long time after that meal has been digested and is gone from memory.
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