Agri Leader

Blossoming bulbs brighten the flowerbeds

They look brownish, lumpy, dry and even downright homely, but once planted, spring bulbs can transform themselves into some of the most brilliant flowers in your garden. There are many bulbs that do well in Central Florida, including amaryllis, gladiolus, iris, lilies, narcissus and caladiums.

For some bulbs, such as lilies and caladiums, this time of year is a good time to plant. For others, such as amaryllis and iris, it's a good time to enjoy their blooms.

"For many bulbs, now is a good time to plant," said Bobby Heffner, the owner of Robbins Nursery in Sebring. The nursery currently has red amaryllis, white Amazon lilies, colorful caladiums, yellow and pink gladiolus, along with gloriosa, pinecone and white ginger bulbs in stock.

Bulbs are generally easy to grow and most often enjoy sunny locations and well-drained soil. Most bulbs do not like the shade, although some, such as caladiums, do well in partial shade.

"Bulbs also need fertilizer, such as a general purpose fertilizer," said Heffner, who adds organics such as blood meal and bone meal to the soil. These natural fertilizers add important nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen to the soil. The fertilizers help strengthen the root systems of plants, which increases the growth, and helps to increase their resistance to pests and disease. The bulb itself is actually an underground storage organ for the plant that helps it to survive.

In Florida, thanks to the year-round sunshine, the bulbs can generally be left in the ground year after year. "Sometimes it's good to dig them up every other year and divide and break them up," explained Heffner. If they are divided and then the largest bulbs out of those are replanted, they then have better blossoms and longer stems next time they bloom.

Heffner added that if it is really cold or too wet, the bulbs are prone to bulb rot, a disease in which fungi and bacteria ruin the bulb. Generally speaking, however, bulbs do fine in Florida's soil year-round.

There are a few bulb favorites that do not grow well in the South, such as tulips, hyacinths and some lilies, but a good amount of bulbs, including calla, dahlia and narcissus do well here.

"While most of us think of flowering bulbs, there are also bulbs that grow into plants, such as elephant ears," said Heffner, who has elephant ear bulbs in stock at his nursery. These large leaf foliage plants can be planted in beds or containers, or they can be used as borders. They also look stunning when planted with flowering bulbs, such as begonia or impatiens, and the ever-popular caladiums.

Speaking of caladiums, Lake Placid, with over 1,000 acres dedicated to caladiums, is the "Caladium Capital of the World." 98 percent of the world's caladium bulbs actually come from Lake Placid and are part of Florida's nearly 800 floriculture producers with a wholesale value of over $812 million (2010). Considering that caladiums are hearty plants that offer colorful heart-shaped leaves in combinations of green, with white, pink or red, it's no wonder they are such a popular choice to brighten up a shady spot or keep as a potted house or deck plant. Imagine all that just from a dirty little bulb.

For more information:


International Bulb Society:

Robbins Nursery, Inc. 4803 U.S. 27 (South location)

4803 US HWY 27 (North location) Sebring (863) 385-1111