Tips on Buying Best Cold Hardy Flower Bulbs

Buying flower bulbs to plant and grow is an exciting experience that begins in the fall and continues through the spring. Dutch flowering bulbs are usually delivered to American ports by the month of September for fall planting. Major Dutch bulbs offerings include Dutch Amaryllis and African Amaryllis; daffodil bulbs and the famous, Tulip bulbs.

Amaryllis flower bulbs grow the showiest blooms and are pre-cooled to force fast flowering in 3 weeks after containerizing. Dutch bulb importers of Amaryllis offer a larger variety of selections and more bulbs to tempt the buyers. The African growers of Amaryllis bulbs appear to be enslaved to the Dutch Amaryllis importers distribution network, however, the African flowers that emerge on the Amaryllis stems are superior in many respects to the Dutch Amaryllis. The African Amaryllis blooms appear to offer clearer colors, more compact flower stalks, leaves that grow as the flowers appear, and more numerous flower stalks and grow from smaller bulbs. The large array of bloom colors from amaryllis includes red, pink, lavender, orange, yellow, white, green, maroon, red stripe, white stripe, pink stripe, and bi-color. Double numbers of petals on Amaryllis flowers are fast growing to be very popular choices to buy, since the petal count is increased to 12, instead of 6 that grow on most Amaryllis bulb flower stems, looking very similar to a huge carnation flower.

Daffodil flower bulbs are important Dutch bulbs for fall planting, because of their reasonable market cost, the ease of planting, and the growing of flower stalks in the Spring in various colors of yellow, white, orange, and the rare pink daffodil. Daffodil bulbs are easy to naturalize to bloom again every year.

Tulip bulbs are a native flowering plant of Turkey, but long ago tulips were hybridized on a large commercial scale by Dutch bulb growers. The cost of Dutch tulips has not always been inexpensive to buy, but tulip buyers today still love the spring flower colors of red, pink, orange, yellow, blue, purple, white, and bi-color. Cities and government organizations anxiously buy tulip bulbs in huge numbers during winter seasons to grow in beautiful landscape displays for the Spring.

Agapanthus bulbs are often called ‘Lily of the Nile’, and Agapanthus grows profusely along the Nile River in Egypt, and the blooms captivated the ancient African plant explorers who dug the bulbs for shipping back to European gardens. Blue and white colors of Agapanthus rhizomes have been hybridized in recent years to intensify colors, and some Agapanthus plants are cold hardy down to zero degrees F., whereas, the older clones of native Agapanthus were considered to be tropical in nature and not very cold hardy, so they were not introduced for planting in more Northern locations until recently, when gardeners from more Northern States experimented with new Agapanthus hybrids and determined their cold hardy tolerance.

The Canna lily rhizome has been long considered to be tropical in nature, with very little cold hardy resistance. The early American botanist and explorer, William Bartram, wrote in his book, Travels, in 1773, the discovery of Canna indica in Alabama near Mobile, “Canna indica is surprising in luxuriance, presenting a glorious show, the stem rises six, seven, and nine feet high, terminating upwards with spikes of scarlet flowers.” Bartram also discovered the native Canna flaccida, growing near Fort Frederica, Georgia, located on the Island of St Simon’s. Canna lily colors are broad, red, white, pink, lavender, orange, yellow, speckled, bi-color and others. Some Canna flower growers plant cannas with variegated leaf forms that are striped with red, green, yellow, white, and pink. Dutch distributors of canna rhizomes still flood retail box store, garden centers with “Victorian-age” canna bulbs of poor quality; varieties that had declined, “run out”, 50 years ago, and they should have been discontinued and not presented to buyers at a garden center nursery.

Ginger lily rhizomes grow flowers with fragile, delicate blossoms – many looking like miniature orchid flowers. The foliage of Ginger lilies is interestingly variable, growing in colors of green, yellow, maroon, and stripes of yellow or white. Interest in planting ginger lilies has surged in 20 years, because of the realization that many ginger lilies are cold hardy, surviving temperatures as cold as zero degrees F. The foliage and the flowers are pleasantly aromatic.

Daylilies are actually not bulbs but rhizomes, but are sold extensively as daylily bulbs. Thousands of named varieties of Daylily bulbs have been easily hybridized by legions of backyard gardeners and the selection improvement and flower quality is absolutely astonishing. The improvement has resulted in growing double flower daylily, miniature daylily, cold hardy daylilies, and compact clumping or large clumping daylily plants. It is staggering to realize all these many colors – red, white, yellow, orange, purple, pink, and bi-color originated from an original native plant -a seedy, yellow daylily growing wild on the forest edge.

Elephant Ear bulbs are very variable, some growing into bulbs and others into rhizomes. Gardeners have always been fascinated that the Elephant Ear plants grow large in the landscape into huge clumps with that unforgetable tropical appearance. Great interest in Elephant Ear bulbs has resulted in recent years by a nationally tested demonstration that Elephant Ear bulbs are cold hardy enough to survive temperatures of zero degrees. Curious leaf patterns appear on hybrid Elephant Ear plants, and the extensive variegated patterns that appear on the leaves add a stunning, mysterious attraction from their random markings and splashes of yellow, white, and maroon on the surfaces of various leaf sizes, some large enough to hide the body of a mature man or small enough leaf to place in the palm of the hand. Elephant Ear bulbs can grow as large as the human head or the size of a quarter. Offset bulbs are abundant from Elephant Ear bulbs in the fall as the plants grow dormant to regrow when replanted in the spring. In the wholesale trade of Elephant Ear bulbs, it is a common practice to divide them into two major commercial categories, the Alocasia, and the Colocasia, based on many taxonomical growth characteristics.

Crinum Lily bulbs offer to an adventurous hobbiest or gardener an antique garden bulb selection that has been reintroduced as improved crinum clones by the brilliant inductiveness of chemist, Lester Hannibal of Fair Oaks, California. Lester Hannibal back crossed and intercrossed many native crinum lily species to offer the gardener an excellent, cold hardy crinum, an “interspecific hybrid”, that can be grown as far North as Philadelphia, PA, zone 6, and to survive intense freezes of below zero temperatures. Many of Lester Hannibal’s crinum flower hybrids were a re-creation of obsolete but popular commercial crosses that were made by Cecil Houdyshel in the 1930’s, but largely improved upon from the original “Powellii” forms with clear, white and pink colors, an increase in the number of flowers in the umbel, extended flowering periods, an eliminatio of drooping flowers, an intensification of fragrance and early flowering after sprouting from the germination of the seed. The “milk and wine” crinum lilies were named, because the flowers were white (milk) and wine striped colors. Crinum colors are burgundy, red, pink, white, greenish-yellow, and orange. Crinum bulbs increase by growing into clumps of multiple offsets from the central mother bulb, or by planting the seed of some cultivars or species.

-Rare, Hard-To-Find Flower Bulbs of Merit-
Many rare minor flower bulbs are unavailable to buy anywhere, except by possibly exchanging plants with collectors and hobbiest. The Amazon lily, Encharist grandiflora, blooms with six white, daffodil like petals, and a green or glowing yellow cup radiating from the center. This delicate flower can be remembered from days past for its wonderful charming fragrance. The Bird of Paradise is known for the two tropical forms, the Strelizia reginae, the most common: brilliantly colored flowers with orange, red, and blue glaring blossoms; and the Strelizia nicholae that grows large, showy, white flowers. The Blood Lily, Scadoxus mutliflorus, forms baby-head sized globular flowers with red filamented petals and radiate fragile threads of red that are affixed to the to the center of the bloom, great for container culture. The Red Butterfly lily, Odontonema strictum, won the perennial plant award of the year in Florida in the year 2000, and butterflies and hummingbirds flock to visit the fiery red spikes, beginning in mid-August and continuing until the first hard freeze. The Calla lily, Calla palustrus, has been hybridized with many other Calla lily species to grow into many splendid colors, but the new hybrids are not as popular as the white, fragrant, winter-blooming, Calla aethiopica; and the yellow calla, Calla aethiopica. Clivia lilies, Clivia minata, are choice heavy shade-requiring plants that produce gigantic clusters of orange flowers, cup shaped, with a yellow throat, and often will re-bloom two or three times from large bulbs. The Gloriosa lilies, Gloriosa rothschildiana, a climbing vine that clothes itself with recurved, star-like flowers that are favored and admired by florists and flower arrangers, because the blooms last so well. The Inca Lily, Alstomeria aurantiaca, has become naturalized in America, as an escaped bulb from the tropical jungles of Peru. The Alstromeria flowers last well as a cut-flower, and waxy, greenish-red funnels begin blooming vigorously in the spring. Lycoris are a charming group of flower bulbs that called “Spider Lily”, and they bloom in floral colors of pink, yellow, white, and red, Lycoris radiata, which is the most widely grown. The Pineapple Lily, Eucomis bicolor, grows into flowers that are shaped like miniature pineapple fruits in colors of white and rusty-red. Scilla flower bulbs are grown in large numbers as bedding plants, many Dutch varieties are small and make good cut flowers, but the best cold hardy Scilla is the Scilla peruviana that forms and grows into glowing, purplish-blue flowers that either grow as well as bedding plants, or containerized plants. Voodoo lilies, Amorphophallus bulbifer, are strange and bazaar leafy bulbous plants, both in leaf and flower, with a suggestive look of snakes, cobras, and other vermin that may be lurking beneath the leopard-spotted menacing leaves. Zephyranthes are called “rain lilies”, and softly bloom in colors of pink, Zephyranthes grandiflora; yellow, Zephyranthes citrina; white, Zephyranthes atamasco; and a mind-numbing number of Zephyranthes bulb mongrels that are distributed by a retired breeder in San Antonia, Texas, who apparently has nothing better to do, than paralyze all the worlds earnest taxonomists into the task of assembling the records of his Mexican-American bulb-children lineage into a staggering Encyclopedia publication.