Plants that Just Won’t Die [Bulbs that Naturalize]

Plants that Just Won’t Die [Bulbs that Naturalize]

Walking around the yard early yesterday morning, double checking that everything in the garden would be ready for the heat wave this weekend, I noticed new scapes just beginning to emerge on my Lycoris radiata Spider lilies. I irrigated really well in the days before the unusually hot weather, and the Spider lilies burst to life because of it. Since it’s too hot to do a lot of gardening tasks in September, especially this weekend, my gardening thoughts turn to other fall planted bulbs. I really love bulbs that bloom late in the summer or early fall when little else is in bloom. And bulbs can be addictive. Every year, I tell myself, “I don’t really need anymore…well maybe just one or two new varieties.”

Lycoris bulb in Socal naturalized spider lily bulb
A new scape emerging on a red spider lily, Lycoris radiata. There is a photo of one of the flowers from last year at the bottom of the post.

Because I have collected so many bulbs, I must be careful where I dig to avoid damaging the little treasures scattered thoughout my yard. The bulbs and corms are tucked in here and there, wherever I can find a little bare earth beside the sidewalk, under our deciduous fruit trees, or in among the flower beds. A few bulbs are so well adapted to our climate, that they can weather long stretches of drought and utter neglect. They eventually bloom when conditions improve to their liking. I look forward to the emergence of the bulbs year after year, especially the ones that coincide with special events like birthdays, holidays, and particularly after hot, dry summers, like in the case of lycoris.

Lycoris aurea yellow spider lily flower
One of my Yellow Spider Lily bulbs blooming in mid October of 2019. These are slow to settle in and often taking 2 to 3 years from planting to blooming. These bloom a month after the red ones.

Bearded Iris were my gateway drug into bulbs. Technically as a group they are geophytes, which includes bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. Early on, almost all my bulbs came from local nurseries, which begin stocking their fall planting bulbs around the second week in September. After I became interested in more than just the easy to find bulbs, I discovered a much greater selection from mail order nurseries that specialize in them. However, my babiana stricta, watsonia, crocosmia, and chasmanthe corms came from generous local gardeners. It is a little late for ordering irises online, but most other fall planted bulbs are still available online and nurseries are just beginning to get their shelves stocked.

blue bearded iris in southern california zone 10b rebloomer
A bearded iris blooming under my multigrafted stone fruit tree. This photo is from early April 2020.

I prefer to plant bulbs that naturalize or grow and spread into larger and larger clumps, with little or no help from me. They are a garden investment because they tend to increase at a better rate than a bank account, often doubling or even tripling after just a fews years. The ones that can tolerate an occassional summer irrigation without rotting are even better since some of my bulbs are near thirstier plants like roses, fuchsias, or geums. Eventhough I still have other bulbs on my wishlist, after twenty+ years, my collection of bulbs that can naturalize in SoCal has really grown:

  • Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile)
  • Allium ‘chives’ and perennial leeks – ‘Harvey Wilson’
  • Alstromeria (Inca Lily or Peruvian Lily – If I could only pick one geophyte, this would be it!)
  • Amarcrimum (This needs a little water in dry season to look its best, but can get by on just rain fall in an average year.)
  • Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies)
  • Anomatheca laxa (aka Lapeirousia laxa or Woodland Painted Petals or False Freesia)
  • Babiana stricta (Baboon flower)
  • Babiana rubracyanea
  • Bearded Iris
  • Chasmanthe floribunda (Cobra Lily or African Cornflag. I don’t recommend this corm)
  • Clivia miniata
  • Crocosmia (Montbretia)
  • Crocus sativius (Saffron Crocus)
  • Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’ (most daffodils don’t naturalize around here)
  • Dicholstemma (a California Native corm)
  • Dutch Iris
  • Freesia
  • Ixia (Fairy Wand)
  • Lycoris (Spider Lily)
  • Nerine (Guernsey Lily)
  • Paper white Narcissis (I don’t like how these smell)
  • Rhodofilia bifidus (Oxblood Lilies)
  • Sparaxis elegans
  • Sparaxis Tricolor (Harliquin Flower)
  • Triteleia laxa (Ithuriel’s Spear – a California Native corm)
  • Watsonia borbonica (Bugle Lily)
  • Zantedeschia (White Calla lily-This needs a little water in the dry season to look its best, but can get by on just rain fall in an average year. These came with our house.)
white freesia alba naturalized in Southern Calif
White Freesia near the pavers in front of the chicken coop. Photo taken in March 2020

A few of my bulbs, including lycoris, rhodofilia bifidus, nerines, and amaryllis belladonna, are considered “summer bulbs” because they are sometimes sold in Spring, instead of fall. However, June to August, during their dormant period, is a better time to plant these. A few of them I acquired from local nurseries in early fall already potted up and in flower. Bulbs, like Amaryllis belladonna, could potentionally outlive the gardeners that plant them. I have seen these growing happily thoughout most of California, everywhere from the road side along Highway 1 in Northern California, to irrigated gardens, and even sprinkled throughout yards planted with primarily with California natives. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed it was a native bulb. In a SoCal garden, I doubt Amaryllis belladonna will ever die.

Amaryllis belladonna naked lady bulbs in flower in southern california SoCAl
The Amaryllis belladonna flowers blooming under the pomegranate tree in the backyard back in late July 2020.
Bugle lily watsonia bulbs pink
The pinkish colored watsonias blooming in Spring 2020 in the front yard.
harliquin flowers single color peach and oranges
Sparaxis flowers blooming near the edge of the concrete in March
Red Lycoris radiata in socal
The red Spider lilies were blooming in the front yard in mid September 2019.

Do you have any favorite bulbs that have naturalized in your garden?

3 thoughts on “Plants that Just Won’t Die [Bulbs that Naturalize]

  1. We had some amaryllis belladonna growing in my yard when I was a kid. They would get mowed over and totally neglected, but come back year after year. I think I need to plant some bulbs! Thank you for your list.

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