Edited by Dr. William C. Welch
Professor and Landscape Horticulturist
Texas A&M University   •  College Station, Texas
JUNE 2001

Bulbs For Warm Climates
By Cynthia W. Mueller, Master Gardener
Galveston County, Texas

The great majority of bulbs sold commercially in Texas such as tulips, daffodils, narcissus, chlidanthus, hyacinths, expensive clivias, and others are not suited for continued existence here. All gardeners, whether born in our state or transplanted from cooler parts of the United States, look longingly at the beautiful illustrations of tulips and daffodils displayed at the nursery or in the pages of seed catalogs and keep trying year after year to have a display of these flowers through pre-chilling bulbs and other methods.

There is really no need to try in vain to grow temperate-climate bulbs when there are many others well suited to the warmer conditions of our state. Dr. Thad M. Howard, a long-time resident of San Antonio, has recently written a book entitled, Bulbs for Warm Climates (UT Press, 2001) which contains detailed descriptions (and numerous color illustrations) of native southwestern, Mexican, South America, African, and Mediterranean bulbs which he has found through personal experience to be suitable for Texas gardeners. Dr. Howard has spent more than 45 years collecting, researching and writing about these warm-climate plants.

His first-hand experience with bulbs is especially relevant to central, south central and southeast Texas, which includes San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont, Austin, Waco, Tyler, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and in general USDA zones 8 and 9. This is a climate that is too cold for plants needing a frost-free environment but not cold enough for those that require a minimum number of chill hours.

Xeriscapes and wildscapes have become increasingly popular in recent years, due greatly to concerns over shortages of water and the need to appreciate and conserve native plant resources. In Bulbs for Warm Climates many of the smaller, more rare and understated species are at last visually identified and delineated through color photographs. Entire color displays may be made from the rainlilies described by Dr. Howard, and they have the added plus of blooming more than once a season. Crinums, long a mainstay of Southern gardens and certainly very hardy and drought resistant, are detailed as well as many of the narcissus, lycoris, and lilies which are able to return year after year under normal garden conditions. His list of Alliums includes some of the popular Dutch-bred blue, purple or white favorites, but he confirms that blooms were stunted and that plants usually did not reappear the next year. However, he describes and details successful growing tips for several dozen other Alliums, many of which do well when water is withheld during their summer dormancy.

Although very popular species such as the gladioli or daylily groupings are not covered because there are societies and books entirely devoted to them, the bulbophile will find information on almost any bulbous or cormous plant suitable for Texas conditions, as well as good listings for both plant societies and sources of seed, etc.

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White Rainlily
C. drummondii