While most gardeners are familiar with spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, many don't realize that some bulbs actually bloom in the fall. These fall-blooming bulbs make unexpected, colorful additions to the fall garden.
Colchicums (Colchicum spp.) are members of the lily family. The bulbs (actually corms) produce green foliage in the spring. The leaves may be up to 10 to 15 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide. The foliage re mains until summer, then it turns yellow and dies back to the ground. The crocus-like flowers appear without foliage in the fall. Flowers may be white, pink, or lavender. Attractive varieties include Colchicum autumnale 'Album' which produces white flowers and 'Alboplenum' which is a double, white-flowering form. 'The Giant' produces large, violet flowers with white throats. The flowers of 'Waterlily' resemble waterlily blossoms.
The large, double, purplish-pink flowers contain up to 20 petals.
Colchicums should be planted immediately after arrival or purchase in the fall. (They often bloom in storage if not planted immediately.) Plant the bulbs in full sun to partial shade. Colchicums require well-drained soils. Since the dying foliage of colchicums is rather unattractive, gardeners should carefully select their planting sites. Good locations would be the front of a shrub border or under the filtered shade of large trees or shrubs. Plant the bulbs in masses 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Colchicums are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5.
An interesting fact concerning colchicums is that the dried corms and seeds of Colchicum autumnale are the source of medicinal colchicum and colchicine. Colchicine is used in plant breeding work to induce mutations.
Another attractive fall-blooming bulb is the showy crocus (Crocus speciosus). Showy crocus is a fall-blooming crocus. Flowers are violet blue with yellow anthers and deep orange stigmas. Plant height is approximately 5 to 6 inches. Excellent varieties include 'Cassiope' which produces aster blue flowers with yellow bases and 'Conqueror' with clear, deep blue flowers.
Showy crocus is easy to grow. Choose a well-drained site in partial shade to full sun. Plant the bulbs (corms) in masses to achieve the best visual impact. The bulbs should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart.
When browsing through bulb catalogs and garden centers in the fall, consider some fall blooming bulbs. They make spectacular additions to the fall landscape.
This article originally appeared in the October 11, 1996 issue, p. 164.
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