For the most part, the term “fall bulbs” is a bit of a misnomer, since the majority are spring blooming. There are exceptions, however — a few bloom in late summer and early fall. If you like flowering bulbs, you should consider planting some of these lesser-known specimens in your garden.
The first of these is a bulb called Colchicum autumnale and is sometimes referred to as fall-blooming crocus, even though it is a member the lily family.
Colchicums are a diverse group and are found growing in a variety of ecosystems from Western Europe to central Asia. These lovely bulbs are best known to avid gardeners who plant them for late season color. Colchicums bloom anywhere from late August to early October in most gardens.
These seldom planted bulbs can be found in a range of colors from deep lilac to pure white and shades in between. There are even double forms such as the beautiful white Alboplenum.
Colchicums pop up in the autumn garden as if from nowhere, and their bright, vase-shaped flowers add a welcome touch of color at a time when it is needed most.
In the early spring, colchicum bulbs send up clumps of broad, deep green, deer-proof leaves.
Noticeable in the early spring when other plants are just emerging from winter dormancy, the leaves last only a short time. Almost as quickly as they emerge they are overshadowed by the rapid growth in the rest of the garden.
By mid-summer, the leaves have vanished and the plants are forgotten. Several months later, as the garden is winding down for the season, colchicums send their cheery flowers out of the ground — and remind us why we love gardening so much.
Hardy in zones 4 through 9, colchicums are best planted in full sun to partial shade. They thrive in average garden soil, but dislike damp locations.
They tolerate hot, dry summers well and are relatively free from pests. As is the case with many bulbs, they do not like to be disturbed once planted, so try to select a location that you are not apt to dig up come spring.
While colchicum is referred to as fall crocus but is not in fact crocus, there is a fall blooming crocus that actually IS a crocus.
Seldom planted by American gardeners but often found in European gardens, Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus, looks just like its spring blooming cousins.
Visitors to your garden may shake their heads in disbelief when they see small lavender crocus blooming in your garden in September or October.
However, if there are gourmet cooks in the crowd, they may be very interested in the bulb’s tiny flowers since the showy red stigmas of Crocus sativus are used to make culinary Saffron.
Grown for thousands of years for the unique aroma of its colorful stigmas and their ability to add a rich golden yellow color to recipes, crocus sativus is as carefree a bulb as its spring blooming cousins, albeit with a more exotic background.
Crocus bulbs, whether spring or fall blooming, prefer to grow in full sun and well-drained soil. If the soil is too wet, especially during their summer dormancy period, the bulbs will rot.
If your fall garden needs a shot of unexpected color, consider planting a few fall blooming bulbs this season. When they bloom next fall you will be glad you did!