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Some bulbs are at home in Florida soil

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[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
Small brown caladium bulbs, top, blood lily, center, and amaryllis, right, are some of the bulb varieties that are suitable for Florida’s climate and soil. The dish in the center contains bone meal to nourish the soil.

By JOHN A. STARNES JR.

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2000


In fact, many of the varieties that thrive here are even more beautiful and exotic than those grown by our gardening counterparts up North.

We Floridians can't fill our gardens with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths like those our northern counterparts enjoy, but we are privy to tropical bulbs they can only dream of. The bulbs of northern gardens require winter's chill and cold ground so they can annually rest and bloom. Our balmy climate denies them that. But here in Central Florida, tropical bulbs from around the world grow easily and offer a much longer display than those northern spring bulbs while producing a more exotic range of flower forms and fragrances.

Nearly all flowering bulbs prefer full sun and moist, fertile soil rich in organic matter such as compost or decaying mulches.

Like most other plants, they do best in soil that is slightly acid, so if your coastal sandy soil is too "sweet" (alkaline) you can gently acidify it with a generous sprinkling of cottonseed meal from a feed store or with a light sprinkling of the natural mineral supplement Ironite.

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[Times file photo: Olie Stonerook]
When spring comes around, the bulbs, like this red amaryllis, will add brilliant colors to your garden.
Many of us in Central Florida have funky sandy soil that is too acid, indicated by sour soil-loving weeds such as sand spurs, dollarweed, sedge grass and oxalis.

Each March give your acid soil a generous sprinkling of dolomite, a natural soil sweetener that also supplies calcium and magnesium. Sprinkle it as heavily as if you were flouring a cake pan. Plant each bulb deeply so that the "neck" barely protrudes above the soil line, to protect it from the extremes of spring drought and winter frosts.

You can buy and plant them during the summer rainy season, or plant them now. Tucked in amongst your perennials, shrubs and annuals, bulbs will add a new dimension of drama to your garden as their gorgeous flower spikes emerge when you least expect it. Just imagine picking a whole bouquet of huge amaryllis trumpets for the dinner table.

Like all your other perennials, bulbs will enjoy a soil feeding in March, July, September and December. Use a good organic fertilizer such as fish meal or cottonseed meal from a feed store, Ringer Lawn Restore from a hardware store or a generous sprinkling of compost or fresh horse stall sweepings.

To conserve precious water, keep the soil mulched with wood chips from a tree trimming service or EnviroMulch, made from punk trees that are being cleared out of the Everglades.

Who needs tulips or daffodils when you have these to choose from?

PERUVIAN DAFFODIL (Eucharis grandiflora): Wonderfully fragrant white blooms, tolerates light shade.

CRINUM: Maroon to salmon to white trumpets on stalks up to 5 feet tall. A big landscape accent plant.

LYCORIS: Graceful spikes of red, white, yellow or pink trumpets.

BLOOD LILY (Haemanthus): Fiery red globe of petite florets.

SPREKELIA: Orchid-like crimson blooms great for cutting.

SPIDER LILY (Hymenocallis): Large, fragrant white blooms with graceful trailing petals.

AMARCRINUM: A hybrid of amaryllis and crinums, offering the best of both.

CLIVIA MINIATA: Big clusters of orange-red blooms, tolerates light shade, thrives in a clay pot.

BUTTERFLY AMARYLLIS: Discovered in South America; pin-striped with maroon and chartreuse.

GLORIOSA LILY: Brilliant red and yellow flowers bedeck this vining bulb. The tuber is very poisonous if eaten, so caution children.

BLUE NILE LILY (Agapanthus species): Sky-blue clusters of blooms, tolerates light shade.

NERINE: Graceful spikes of petite trumpets in red, pink or white.

RAIN LILY: (Zephyranthes): Charming pink or white blooms emerge after deep rains. Grassy foliage allows them to be planted in your lawn for an flower meadow.

* * *

John A. Starnes Jr. is an avid gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for the diverse regions of Florida and Colorado. He can be reached at: THE.GARDEN-DOCTOR@worldnet.att.net

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