Most flowering bulbs need a dormancy period, to rest and recoup their energy. Many spring blooming bulbs require a period of chilling, to break this dormancy period. Gardeners in colder growing zones can accomplish this simply by leaving the bulbs in the ground for the winter. But gardeners in USDA Zones 8 and higher may need additional help.
The most familiar spring flowering bulbs are flowers like daffodils and tulips, which require a period of chilling in order to bloom. These can also be grown in warmer climates if they are prechilled and then planted in the early spring. Prechilling isn’t difficult and can easily be done in the refrigerator. You can even purchase bulbs that have been prechilled for you. However there are many spring blooming bulbs, like those listed a little further down, that don’t require a cold winter, that are especially suited to growing in warmer climates. But if your heart is set on daffodils and tulips, here are some tips for growing them in warmer climates.
Which Bulbs are Best Bets for Warm Climates
- Daffodils: When it comes to daffodils, most warm climate experts recommend either Division Seven, jonquilla; or Division Eight, tazetta, which includes the popular paperwhites. These also are of Mediterranean origin and don’t require pre-chilling. They are also fragrant and could very well perennialize and rebloom. That isn’t the general rule though. Although prechilled spring bulbs will flower for warm climate gardeners, they should be considered annuals and new bulbs will need to be chilled and planted each year.
- Tulips: If you must have tulips, look for early-blooming bulbs. ‘Lady Jane' tulips are the big favorite among southern gardeners and the Clusiana species and hybrids are especially recommend by Brent & Becky’s Bulbs. They originated in the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor and Caucasus, and handle the climate better than Dutch hybrids, which prefer colder winters. Darwin Hybrid tulips are also good choices.
Even if you like the traditional spring look of daffodils and tulips, you should consider growing some of these warm climate bulbs. They’re easier to grow, most are perennial and they simply look more appropriate in warm temperatures.
Spring Blooming Bulbs that Don’t Require a Chilling Period
- Allium (Allium spp.) - There are hundreds of alliums to choose from. Alliums are ornamental cousins of the onion and aren’t usually bothered by animal pests. The exception is the vole, which will eat newly planted bulbs over the winter. The flowers are globes, umbrels or sprays that sit a top long straight stems. There’s a variety of colors and heights to blend into any garden. My favorites are ‘Purple Sensation’ and A. cristophii, which looks like a lit sparkler. (Zones 4 - 10)
- Crinum (Crinum spp.) This tall member of the Amaryllidaceae family is topped with a circle of trumpet shaped flowers, usually either white, pink or some combination of the two. Plant so that the neck of the bulb is just above the soil and give it plenty of water while it’s growing. Although it likes heat, it doesn’t like being dry. (Zones 8 - 11)
- Gloriosa Lily (Gloriosa spp., G. rothschildiana and G. Superba) The Gloriosa lily is actually a tuberous perennial. It sprawls and scrambles through other plants, lifting its bright red and/or yellow, lily-like flower heads above the foliage, giving it its other common names, the Climbing Lily or Flame Lily . (Zones 8 - 11)
- Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata) Another easy going member of the Amaryllidaceae family, with clusters of bright tubular flowers on top of stiff, straight flower stalks. Likes to be crowded, but they’re not happy in wet soil. (Zones 9 - 11)
- Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) These are probably the most popular forced spring bloomer, simply because they need so little prodding to grow. The fragrance is either loved or hated and can be a bit strong in a small room. However N. tazetta will grow when planted outdoors and will usually naturalize. (Zones 4 - 9)
- Snowflake (Leucojum spp.) - Although Leucojum actually translates to “white violet” and they do have a violet-like scent, spring snowflake is a good description. The danity white drooping cup-shaped flowers are very similar to snowdrop (Galanthus), but Leucojum holds up better in the heat. There is also a fall blooming species. (Zones 4 - 8)
- Spider Lily (Hymenocallis spp.) These look more like spider daffodils to me, with a trumpet surrounded by 6 narrow, spidery petals. Again, plant these so that the bulb’s neck is just above ground level and don’t let them get too much water during their summer dormancy. Don’t confuse these with the red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), which blooms in the fall. (Zones 8 - 10)
- Watsonia (Watsonia spp.) Such a delicate flower should have a prettier name. You’ll need to be in a very warm climate to grow these outdoors, but if you can, you’ll be rewarded with spikes of turblar blossoms in shades of red, orange, pink and white that start blooming in late winter and carry on into spring. (Zones 9 - 10)
Warm climates can vary greatly, not just in USDA Zone, but also in amount of rainfall, temperature fluctuations and duration and intensity of heat. So there is no one size fits all growing advice. In general, spring blooming bulbs can be planted in fall and winter. The warmer your climate, the later you should plant. But check with your Cooperative Extension Service for local recommendations.
When to Plant
To keep your bulbs coming back, you’ll need to feed them with an all purpose bulb fertilizer or bone meal. The best times to do this are when the foliage appears and as the blooms fade, usually in about March and May/June.
Online Sources of Bulb for Warmer Climates
Return to the Spring Blooming Bulb FAQ for more info on bulbs. (Like which are deer resistant and whether you really have to leave that ugly fading foliage around for weeks...)