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How to Select Autumn Blooming Bulbs

Crocus speciosus 'Conqueror'

Most gardeners are familiar with the bulbs that bloom in the spring and summer but there are also bulbs that bloom in autumn. The good news about fall blooming bulbs is that you can plant them in the late summer or early fall and have them bloom in matter of weeks. No planning ahead or waiting is necessary. And yes, they will come back the following fall just like spring blooming bulbs. The down side is that the bulbs are harder to find but good nurseries may have them, and catalogs as well as internet sources (such as White Flower Farm) carry them too. Once you have the bulbs, plant them immediately as they are ready to flower and may even have shoots growing from them.

The choice of fall blooming bulbs is more restrictive than that of spring blooming bulbs. Here are some favorites. (Sorry, there are no common names for these)

Yes, they are cousins of the spring blooming crocuses They have the same sort of flower, are just as easy to grow, but are different species. Plant the bulbs (actually corms) in a gritty, well-drained soil and hope that voles and chipmunks don’t find them.


Crocus speciosus

    Height: 5-6”
    Bloom Date: September into October
    Colors: white, various shades of blue
    Hardiness: Zones 4-9
    Recommended Cultivars: ‘Conqueror’ (sky blue), ‘Oxonian’ (violet blue), ‘Albus’ (white), Cassiope (aster blue with yellow; has largest flower of C. speciosus)


Crocus kotschyanus

Crocus kotschyanus/zonatus
Flowers smaller than those of C. speciosus.

    Height: 3-5
    Bloom Date: September or October
    Color: Pale to mid bluish lilac with conspicuous darker veins, yellow blotches at the base of each petal, and whitish throat.
    Hardiness: Zones 3-5

Crocus sativus
Although often offered for sale, don’t bother with this one; it is the saffron crocus but you will never get enough saffron to make a single meal. Besides, it is difficult to grow well.

Although Colchicums look a lot like crocuses they are not closely related. There flowers are larger and their bulbs (corms) are pointed on top like a tulip bulb. The best news is, however, that the wildlife don’t like them. The coarse leaves of colchicum pop up in spring, turn yellow, and die by early summer. The flowers appear without foliage in fall. Plant in rich, well drained soil in partial shade, in a place where the dying foliage will not be a problem.


Colchicum autumnale
Each corm sends up 1-6 flowers. Both single and double forms are available.

    Height: 4-7”
    Bloom Time: mid to late fall
    Color: purplish-pink; white
    Hardiness: Zones 5-8
    Recommended Cultivars: ‘Albus’ (single white, smaller and very floriferous than others), ‘Alboplenum’ (double white, flowers 4-6” across)


Colchicum speciosus
Flowers larger than those of C. autumnale

    Height: 6-12”
    Bloom Time: September -October
    Color: Various shades of purple with white throat; white
    Hardiness: 5-8
    Recommended Cultivars: ‘Album’ (white; clump-forming ), ‘Atrorubens’ (reddish-purple)


Hybrid Colchicum ‘Waterlily’
Flowers are 4-5” across and double.

    Height: 5-6”
    Bloom Time: late fall
    Color: pinkish-purple
    Hardiness: Zones 5-8


Also known as ‘rain lilies’ because the flower stalks pop up after heavy rain.

Lycoris squamigera
Plant in light shade to full sun in moist, humsey soil.

    Height: 1 ½-2’
    Bloom Time: Early fall followed by leaves in spring
    Color: Pink
    Hardiness: 5-9

Lycoris radiata

    Height: 1-2’
    Bloom Time: September followed by leaves in October
    Color: Red
    Hardiness: Zones 5b-10

IVY LEAVED CYCLAMEN (Cyclamen hederifolium)
Plant in shady, well-drained, humusy soil. Rot can be a problem so if possible plant on a slope to facilitate good drainage.

    Height: 3-6”
    Bloom Time: August-October
    Color: White, pink
    Hardiness: Zones 6-8

These selections offer a splash of color to the fall garden and will catch the eye of most gardeners. Many of them may not be familiar and the reason may be the price. Sticker shock is a problem. The bulbs run about $3-10+ a piece with $5-6 being most common. You don’t need a lot of them to make an impact especially since not much else is blooming and that fact makes them more affordable.

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