Cannas grow after spring bulbs bloom.

Spring bulbs are making a comeback from their unceremonious internments last autumn. Some of the earlier sorts are visibly extending foliage above the surface of the soil. A few narcissus, daffodil and crocus are already blooming! Now it is time to plant late bulbs, or summer bulbs, which start to grow through warm spring weather, and bloom for summer.

Spring bulbs are generally the same as hardy bulbs of climates with cold winter weather. They are hardy to frost while dormant. Since chill is relatively mild locally, their hardiness is irrelevant. Conversely, some prefer more chill than they experience locally. Inadequate chill can compromise performance. Autumn planting maximizes their brief chill exposure. 

Late bulbs are completely different from spring bulbs. Not only do they not require chill to perform, but some dislike it. Many of the most popular late bulbs that can naturalize here succumb to frost elsewhere. Instead of early planting for chill, as spring bulbs prefer, late bulbs prefer late planting to avoid chill. Their foliage emerges after the last threat of frost.

However, although they do not need or even appreciate chill, most popular late bulbs are resilient to the minor chill of local climates. Once established, they simply die back to the ground in response to the first frost of autumn. They maintain dormancy through winter to regenerate for spring. Some repeat this process for years, since the soil does not freeze.

Not all late bulbs are actually bulbs. Most are corms, rhizomes, tubers, tuberous roots, or other bulb-like perennials. Some, such as dahlia and canna, bloom through an extensive season. Some, such as lily and gladiolus, bloom only once. Planting in phases for a few weeks prolongs their bloom. Of course, they will synchronize for any subsequent bloom.

Canna and common white calla are two of the most reliable late bulbs. Crocosmia is too reliable, and since it can be invasive, it is rarely available. Common gladioli and various lilies are spectacular in bloom, but not reliably perennial. Dahlia is a very rewarding and reasonably reliably perennial summer bulb. It is spectacularly variable in color, form and texture.

8 thoughts on “Late Bulbs Require No Chill

    1. Gingers are rad, although I only recently started growing the common Kahili ginger again, and was given butterfly ginger just last year. I acquired blood lilies also, but they are new to me. I think of them more as perennials, such as Clivia miniata, rather than bulbs.

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    1. Some get tall enough to be proportionate to a fence. Common kahili ginger can get half as high as a normal fence, although they lean out away from it rather far. Some of the cannas get as high as a fence, and stand very vertical.

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      1. Those with the prettiest flowers tend to stay lower, although a few get tall like those with thinner flowers. My ‘Australia’ gets only about five feet tall, with most of the foliage below four feet. (The top is bloom, which is not overly billowy.) I like cannas to be tall because that is how I expect them to be, but those who know them better prefer lower sorts that present their fluffier flowers where they can be seen.

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