Spring Flowering Bulbs for Texas Gardens

Dr. William C. Welch, Professor & Landscape Horticulturist
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
St. Joseph's amaryllis
St. Joseph's amaryllis

Bulbs can add color and fragrance and increase each year if well placed and selected. Narcissus are among the oldest and best adapted perennials. For most of Texas the cluster and smaller flowering types tend to naturalize (return each year) and slowly increase in numbers. Among the oldest and most reliable is 'Grand Primo'. It is probably the most vigorous narcissus of all. Clusters of creamy white flowers with pale yellow centers appear in late January and into February. 'Grand Primo' has been thriving across the South for at least 200 years. A double flowering form is known as 'Erlicheer' and does equally well. Blooming just a few weeks later is an elegant, small yellow flowering narcissus named 'Campernelle'. The graceful flowers and reed-like foliage are about half the size of a traditional daffodil. To lengthen the season plant 'Golden Dawn', another cluster flowering yellow narcissus as well as 'Sir Winston Churchill' that sometimes blooms as late as early April.

Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant
Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant'

Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) are another great bulb for naturalizing over most of Texas. The white flowers have a green dot on each petal and bloom in late January and early February. Foliage appears a few weeks after planting and is also an attractive addition to the garden. Their bloom season usually lasts at least a month. All these bulbs can take full sun but also thrive in partial shade, even under deciduous trees like pecans that lose their leaves in winter. Select a well-drained site and set the bulbs about twice the depth of the height of the bulb. Water to settle the soil but little or no irrigation should be needed to grow these bulbs successfully. As the foliage matures after the bloom season it is best to not remove it until it begins to yellow. During their dormant period these bulbs need no irrigation and actually enjoy being hot and dry during our long summer season.

Now is also a good time to plant tulips and hyacinths, but these need to have an artificial cold period in order to bloom in most of Texas. This chill requirement can be met by placing the bulbs in the lower part of your refrigerator for six to eight weeks. After they have been chilled plant them directly into pots or in the garden. These are annuals for us with few exceptions. Clusiana tulips (Tulipa clusiana) are small white and pink striped species tulips that sometimes naturalize in semi-arid parts of the state.

Bulbs look best when used in elongated masses of at least a dozen of a single kind. Cool season annuals work well with them. Consider transplants of pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, snapdragons and stock. There is still time to add some poppies or larkspur as well. The best way to start these is from seed that should be planted immediately. Thin the stand to single plants 3-6" apart and transplant or share the rest. Some effort planting bulbs and cool season plants now will result in an abundance of color in late winter and spring.

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