Spring blooming bulbs planted in fall do very well in the South, but the right varieties must be planted. Many of the bulbs that do well here are from the Mediterranean, where summers are dry and winters mild with plenty of moisture.
Bulbs, next to roses are my favorite plants. Bulb catalogs for fall planting arrive in my mailbox in August and I cannot wait to look at all the beautiful pictures, knowing full well that most of those bulbs do not perform well in our hot and humid climate. Nevertheless, I scour the catalogs for bulbs that will flower, and some even naturalize, in Montgomery County.
Narcissi are among the easiest bulbs to grow in the South depending on the variety. Those that do well here are long lived, don’t need the chilling requirements other bulbs do and will naturalize. Although I’ve seen the claims of “deer and rodent proof”, deer have nibbled on the leaves and blooms of my daffodils when there is nothing else for them to eat in winter.
Narcissus – Common name (s): Narcissus, Daffodil, Jonquil, Paperwhites. The genus Narcissus is divided into 13 Classifications or Divisions. With the exception of Divisions twelve and thirteen each describe the type of flower. When selecting Daffodils for your garden, look for early or very early blooming. These bloom in December, January, and early February. Although, some mid-season bloomers will do well, provided we do not get one of those late freezes that wipe out the blooms. Also, look for bulbs that perform well in the South. Box stores sell bulbs that have been dug up months before they arrive on the shelves and may be past their prime. Also, the varieties they offer most of the time need pre-chilling and should be treated as annuals.
Division I –Trumpet. Trumpets have one flower per stem and the corona (cup) is as long or longer than the petals. Dutch Master, King Alfred and Rembrandt are good daffodils for the South.
Division II – Large-Cupped. One flower per stem but the cup is one-third or less than the length of the petals. Carlton is my all-time favorite. It has a yellow cup and will naturalize. Fortune has an orange cup and will naturalize as well.
Division III – Small-Cupped. One bloom per stem, but the cup is about one-third the size of the petals. Barrett Browning, white petals, and small orange cup, is a good selection. It blooms early but I have not been able to get it to naturalize.
Division IV – Double. The flowers resemble camelias and the stems usually have more than one flower. Cheerfulness, a late blooming all white variety is recommended for the South. Erlicheer is my favorite. It has a very sweet scent and six to twelve small white flowers on a stem. It is an heirloom daffodil from New Zealand and is often called a Paperwhite.
Division V – Triandrus. These daffodils are described as hybrids. The wild form, Narcissus triandrus var. alba is called Angel Tears. One of the more popular Triandrus is Thalia, known as the Orchid Narcissus. It has slender foliage and two or more fragrant flowers per stem. Although it naturalizes it has not done so in my garden.
Division VI – Cyclamineus. The petals reflect back, and the flower heads hang at an angle on the stem with a short neck. I’ve grown Tete-a-Tete which did not come back. Last year I planted Jetfire, an American hybrid with yellow petals and orange cup.
Division VII – Jonquilla. Two or more fragrant flowers on slender stems and narrow foliage. The corona is about half or two-thirds the length of the petals. Campernelle is a hybrid, N x odorus, with a very strong fragrance and golden yellow flowers. Baby Moon is a miniature with canary yellow petals and cup, but a late bloomer. Campernelle will naturalize in the South.
Division VIII – Tazetta. Clusters of fragrant flowers on very broad stems. Avalanche, also known as the Seventeen Sisters, has creamy white petals and a yellow cup. Grand Primo is an excellent variety in the South. It has small white flowers with a light-yellow cup. Geranium is another good one for the South. The flowers have white petals and tiny orange cups.
Division IX – Poeticus. Poets. In her book “A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Bulbs on the Gulf Coast” Sally McQueen Squire lists three Poets that performed well in the South. Winifred Van Graven, Actaea and Recurvus. Actaea is offered by bulb catalog companies, but I have not been able to find the other two. I’ve grown Pheasant’s Eye, N. Poeticus var. recurves, an old heirloom dating back to 1850. It has very white petals and a small, yellow-edged red cup with a green eye.
Division X – Bulbocodium hybrid. Considered a miniature daffodil, with heights of four to six inches, it is best planted in rock gardens or containers. Hoop Petticoat is a popular variety that performs well in the South. The cup resembles a lady’s petticoat. The petals are very narrow, and the cup is golden yellow.
Dvision XI a and b – Split cupped Collar and Papillon (Butterfly) respectively. Lemon Beauty is a split corona mentioned in Sally McQueen Squire’s book, but I have yet to try it.
Division XII – Other Narcissus not falling in any of the other divisions. Many are inter-division hybrid.
Division XIII – Species and hybrids found in the wild.
Paperwhites. Narcissus papyraceus, are from the Mediterranean and not considered hardy beyond Zone 8. They can be forced indoors or grown outdoors where they have naturalized in Texas, Louisiana, and California. Ziva, bred in Israel, has the strongest scent, closely followed by Nir. Ariel also has the classic strong scent. Inball has a more moderate scent and may be a better choice for you if you find paperwhites fragrance offensive. They are very easy to grow and are a cheery sight in winter when forced indoors.