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Bulb gardening in the South

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Spanish Blue and Pink Bells

Any given spring, you can see a variety of bulbs booming in warm southern states during the spring – and even into summer and fall. But, southern gardeners are faced with a unique challenge. Bulbs need a cold period to be reliably perennial, so tulips, daffodils and hyacinths planted in the south may look weaker or shorter every season, or may die out altogether. Some gardeners use bulbs as annuals and replant every year – but you may be able to avoid that hassle by careful selection of bulb varieties and a little planning.

Early-spring bloomers, such as grape hyacinths, Spanish bells, snowdrops, and crocuses perform splendidly in the south, coming back year after year. Some large-flowered daffodils will fail to bloom repeatedly in the south, but smaller-flowered varieties (like jonquils or tanzetta daffodils) will perform quite well. Southern gardeners should plant spring-flowering bulbs in the late fall (the ground in zones 7 and 8 should be workable even in November and December). Planting too early may cause the bulbs to sprout in the fall, so wait till the weather is below 60 degrees.

For summer, southern gardeners have plentiful options, as many summer bulbs don’t require a hard cold period (and some can’t withstand cold winters – southern gardeners don’t need to dig and store bulbs in the same fashion that northern gardeners do).  Try planting gladiolus, dahlias, irises and lilies in the spring to enjoy summertime blooms.

While warmer weather is a fairly predictable element of southern living, weekly rainfall is not. In times of drought, bulbs require regular watering during the growing period. However, long periods of rain, or a cold and wet winter, can cause bulbs to rot. So, plant your bulbs in soil that drains very well – if you’re dealing with thick, clay soil, a raised bed garden willed with amended soil may be just the thing to create a livable space for your bulbs.

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September 29, 2014
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