It takes a leap of faith to plant most bulbs. We plant them in fall and then wait, trusting our efforts will pay off in joyful spring color. Experienced gardeners gladly take the leap, but beginners may need a faster payoff. Colchicums are a great place to start.
Colchicums grow from corms (short, thick, bulb-like underground stems that store food) that prefer to be planted in rich, well-drained soil. Improve clay soils by adding compost. A location in full sun to light shade promotes the best flowering. Plant them four to six inches deep and six inches apart.
In a few weeks, seemingly overnight, four to six-inch leafless flower stems burst from the soil.
Their lilac-pink flowers sparkle in autumn sunlight. Commonly called autumn crocus because they bloom in fall and their flowers resemble crocuses, they are actually members of the lily family.
In spring, their green strappy foliage emerges, and then…nothing – no flowers rise from the foliage. Early in summer, leaves begin to yellow before they disappear. Be sure to plant Colchicums among perennials that can hide the declining foliage. As unattractive as they are, the leaves are making food for fall’s flowers and should not be removed.
Provide plenty of water in the spring and early summer and then give them drier conditions in late summer and fall.
Colchicums are pricier than many tulips and daffodils, but are well worth the money. Bulbs multiply and can be divided every few years to replant in new spots. To divide, dig up the entire clump of corms after the foliage has completely died. Gently pull the corms apart and replant them immediately.
Colchicums are lovely growing through a carpet of ground cover and filling spaces between spring- and early summer-blooming perennials. Keep them away from the front of the border or along the edges of garden paths where their yellowing foliage will draw unwanted attention.
A word of caution: all parts of colchicums are poisonous. They contain a toxic substance called colchicine – so keep them away from children or pets. To avoid the possibility of skin irritation, wear gloves when planting.
My favorite variety is Colchicum ‘Double Waterlily’. It features large, lilac-pink double flowers resembling water lilies. I am planting these today. Why don’t you head to your local garden center, pick some up, and garden with me!