Which spring-flowering bulbs do well in southern California?

Fall is the time to plant daffodils, tulips, and other spring-flowering bulbs. Which ones will grow well in southern California, and which ones won't? Here are the answers and planting advice.

Courtesy of Gerald Burke
You need to plant your bulbs in fall to see beauties like these — daffodils and scilla — next spring.

When the first days of September roll around, those of us in southern California know it’s time to forget about vacation, get the kids ready for school, and get back out in the garden and start the gardening chores for fall, winter, and spring. High on that list is fall bulb planting.

Bulbs to be planted in fall include narcissus, trumpet daffodils, Dutch iris, maybe some species tulips depending on where we live, and many of the small bulbs, such as scilla, oxalis, ranunculus, anemone, and freesia, to name a few of the important ones.

Which bulbs where in southern California

Depending on where you live in SoCal, you can also plant hyacinths, the tall tulips, crocus, and other bulbs that appreciate a colder winter.

The first consideration is buying good-looking bulbs — pass on those that look dried out, are mushy or soft, and any that look as if they have any fungus growing on them.

Mail-order houses usually supply good bulbs, but some may not. The advantage of mail order is that the selection is great. You get what you see at the big box stores, and the choice is limited.

For the low desert and many of the warm inland areas, forget about hyacinths, tall tulips, and crocus. They won’t produce well in the warm winter, and they’ll usually succumb after one season. They’ll do better along the coast and in some of the high desert where temperatures are lower, and will do well in the mountains, Big Bear, Arrowhead, Idyllwild, high elevations in the Los Padres National Forest, and mountainous areas farther north.

Plant now

The earlier this month you can get them planted, the better. October is still good, November is OK, but December is getting late, and January is too late for good results.

Remember the rule of thumb for depth of planting — three times the size of the bulbs. This means big trumpet daffodils go into the soil at a depth of four to six inches, smaller bulbs such as Dutch iris and scilla are planted to around two to three inches deep.

Bulb advice

Should you water the bulbs after planting? Yes and no.

In the low desert, it won’t hurt to water them in a little to close up the air pockets. Elsewhere, you won’t need to, and eventually the rains will come along and provide moisture.

Gardeners in some areas complain about varmints — rats, squirrels, gophers, and others -- digging up the bulbs and eating them. There isn’t an easy answer, and where it’s a big problem, the best preventive measure is wire netting laid over the bed a couple of inches beneath the soil.

How about fertilizer? Not usually necessary if your soil is reasonably good, and definitely stay away from fertilizers such as blood meal and bone meal — they attract critters.


Gerald Burke is a travel and horticultural writer who lives in southern California. He spent more than 30 years in the seed business and is a member of the Garden Writers Association. To read more of what he has written here at Diggin' It, click here.

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