Topical bulbs are just full of surprises

One of the great pleasures of gardening is tucking a bulb or tuber into the soil, tamping it down slightly, and waiting. Sweet anticipation. Know something is going to happen, perhaps even forgetting exactly where Victoria Torleyyou put that bulb to bed (after all it was a busy day), then, suddenly, right on schedule, something is poking through the soil and growing toward the sun before bursting into color.

Most of the bulbs we planted in northern zones need a resting period, a shock of cold,  or they just won’t grow for us here. No worries. We can find plenty of bulbs and tubers here although you can pretty much forget about that right-on-schedule thing.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the book or the web has to say about blooming. Bulbs are a surprise in tropical climates – or maybe that should be tropical microclimates. One of the books I use says the hippeastrum (amaryllis family) will flower “at least once a year” (Holttum, “Gardening in the Tropics”) but mine seems to prefer to bloom five or six times a year. (Take that Holttum.) Unlike my old daffodils, my tropical bulbs like to keep their own schedules.

Remember the Christmas amaryllis? The amaryllidaceae family members are South American in origin and were forced to bloom for us up in northern climes.  They usually bloomed a bit for me and then died, although I could pop them in the ground in Georgia. Not in the tropics. Here they surprise us with blooms with no apparent schedule.

Bulbs, of course, have to be dug and separated occasionally. One of my northern neighbors once complained to me that her daffodils, which had bloomed beautifully, were just putting out shoots and no flowers. Seems she had planted the bulbs in a rock garden and never tended them. Once we pulled out the hundreds of baby bulbs, her daffodils went back to blooming in the spring. Aside from division, however, bulbs take little care. Some weeding, a bit of fertilizer, and they will do very well.

If you head over to the tubers, you will immediately run into the caladiums. Even in Georgia, I had to dig them up in the fall (which meant marking where they were – something I am not good at doing – although I blame the dogs for disturbing the markers). Here, you just put them in the ground with good drainage and let them rip. Caladium are one of the most prolific tubers I have ever planted, and I am moving babies all the time.

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