What bulbs do well in mild winter areas of California?
Due to the mild winters throughout a large portion of California, certain popular bulbs in other parts of the country do poorly here. But on the bright side, we can leave in the ground many bulb species that would never make it through a New England winter!
Tulips: Unfortunately the hybrid commercial tulips like the Darwins and Triumphs are poorly adapted here and need special treatment to bloom well. Tulips should be purchased as soon as offered in early September, then stored in the refrigerator (NOT the freezer) until the weather cools off in late October or early November. Without this chilling, the plants will emerge stunted, and the flower stem will not elongate, resulting in the flower blooming down in the base of the leaves. Try to get the bulbs into the ground within a half hour of removing from the refigerator, DON"T leave them sitting in the sun for a few hours while you are digging your holes, that will undo a lot of the artificial chilling. Plant deeply, about nine or ten inches down. After blooming the tulips will break up into several smaller bulbs that will not bloom next year, and these never seem to grow on to flowering size. Thus tulips are considered an annual, and are replanted fresh every year. Because of this it is best to shop around to get the best price on bulbs, since you are only going to get one flower from each bulb. The large home improvement stores are generally the best source for cheap tulip bulbs. A few species tulips will naturalize here, foremost T. sylvestis, bakeri, clusiana and saxatilis.
Daffodils: These are easy here, and come back every year. There is a common misperception that these are hurt by water during the summer. This is not true, and they will decline and eventually disappear if not given some summer watering (they will rot out, however, if planted in poorly draining heavy soil). Newbies are often surprised to see daffodils blooming in late fall. These are the Tazetta division of daffodils, the ones commonly grown for forcing indoors. The only daffodils that do not do well in California are the Poeticus division, they bloom so late in spring the weather is too warm and they don't amount to much.
Crocus: The regular hybrid crocuses are hit or miss, they will bloom, and come back for a few years, then peter out. Some of the species are good repeaters, C. tommasinianus, sieberi and ancyrensis especially.
Hyacinth: These are very similar to tulips, and the same problems apply. Buy cheap bulbs in fall, refrigerate for six to eight weeks, plant when the weather cools off. Don't expect more than one year of bloom.
Galanthus(snowdrops) Same as for tulips.
Alliums, Ipheion, Leucojum and Muscari do VERY well here, need no special treatment, and can become invasive, hard to eliminate pests, so keep and eye on them.
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