Grow Bulbs Suited to Southern California

Yes, tulips and daffodils will grow here, but why be limited to these traditional bulbs when there are many others ideal for our Mediterranean-style climate. Here are some selections from Jim Threadgill of Easy To Grow Bulbs in Oceanside ( ).

  •  Watsonia - These South African natives are becoming known as the gladiolus of Southern California. Flower spikes 3-4 feet tall rise above sword-like foliage. Fragrant blossoms range from pure white and cherry red to pastels and bicolor. Will naturalize.
  • Freesia - Another South African native, freesias are prized for their fragrance and rainbow of colors. Flower stems grow 18 inches tall, making these plants ideal for edging borders. Look for new shades of blue and bicolor combinations. Naturalizes.
  • Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) - Some consider these natives of Spain as hyacinth substitutes for their blue flowers on sturdy stems up to 20 inches tall. Unlike hyacinths, the bell-shaped blossoms are not scented. ‘Excelsior' is a popular dark blue hue.
  • Golden Dawn' narcissus - This tazetta hybrid is among a group of narcissuses that are ideal for mild winter climates. Yellow with a dark gold cup, multiple flowers top each stem. The scent is sweet and not as powerful as the familiar ‘'Paper White' tazetta. Plus the bulbs are deer, gopher and rat proof.
  • Giant White Squill (Urginea maritima) - This Mediterranean monster of a bulb - each can weigh 6 to 8 pounds - performs like the familiar naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna). Foliage appears first, lasting November to April, and then dies back, making way for towering flower spikes to 6 feet in September. Each is covered with thousands of small white flowers that open from top to bottom for a month. Avoid excess summer water.
  • Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) - Plant these fall-blooming crocus in October and they will bloom by Thanksgiving. Low growing, the  lilac flowers are the source of saffron used in cooking. Harvest and dry the orange-red stigmas for use in paella and other dishes.
  • Eremurus – Four to 5-foot tall flower spikes gave this Asia native its common name of foxtail lily or desert candle. ‘Cleopatra' has orange sherbet flowers, while the Shelford hybrids are a mix of pastels. Handle brittle roots carefully when planting.
  • Trumpet Lilies - Stems can top 6-feet tall when these bulbs, also known as Aurelian hybrids, burst into bloom in late spring. Locate them to enjoy their rich perfume. Trumpet blooms with bold stamens are golden apricot on ‘African Queen', lemon-yellow on ‘Golden Splendor' and rose on ‘Pink Perfection'.

Threadgill recommends planting in October as the soil cools. If purchased in advance of planting, store in a mesh or paper (not plastic) bag in a cool, dry location.


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