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Bulbs in the Subtropical Landscape

Landscape designers in South East Queensland are uniform in agreeing to disagree in how to use bulbs in South East Queensland.

While some strongly steer away from bulbs due to images of cool temperate daffodils and hyacinths, others embrace bulbs with an understanding of which ones work in our climate and how to grow them.

So what does one do with these type of bulbs in the subtropics? Treat them like annuals.... plant them, let them flower, then let them die. Do not be concerned with lifting bulbs, putting them in a refridgerator and replanting the following year.

Traditionally, bulbs are planted beneath large stately trees to create classical impressions of the grand gardens in Europe. Planted amongst grassland areas, the emerging bulbs in late winter announce the coming of spring.

More modern landscapers use bulbs as though they are but another plant offered to the palette of the designer. Pale soft pinks, vibrant yellow and even daring dark blue are but a sample of the colours on offer.

Landscaping with bulbs in South East Queensland (the subtropics) or northern Queensland (the tropics) should be limited to those bulbs that will reliably grow and flower each successive year without the need for any special treatment such as vernalisation (ie cold treatment). Many cold climate bulbs need to be refrigerated for many weeks each year, and hence are not reliable in the warm winters we are privileged with. Therefore the best ones are those commonly called ‘warm climate bulbs’.

How to use Bulbs
In the landscape bulbs with grass-like foliage are best placed along pathways so that their beauty while in flower is appreciated. Some of the best bulbs for this are: storm crocus, ifafa lily, jacobs lily, pampas lily, society garlic and agapanthus (dwarf forms).

Making a bold statement with a mass colour display is best achieved with those bulbous plants that grow into larger specimens, such as: agapanthus, daylilies, hippeastrum, cannas, cliveas and spider lilies.

If creating a rainforest or tropical lush garden, the best landscape bulbous plants are: blood lily, crinum, brisbane lily and the wide range of tropical gingers and curcumas.

Many bulbs are sold in nurseries and grocery stores to capture the impulse buyer. However a great landscaped garden only selects those bulbs that will succeed with minimal care and optimal performance.  

List of reliable bulbs for local climate
* Agapanthus
* Blood lily (Haemanthus)
* Canna
* Clivea
* Crinum sp.
* Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
* Hippeastrum
* Ifafa lily (Cyrtanthus)
* Jacobs lily (Sprekelia)
* Pampas lily (Habranthus)
* Society garlic (Tulbaghia)
* Spider lily (Hymenocallis)
* Storm lilies (Zephranthes)

Native bulbous plants worth trying but sometimes a little harder to find:
* Brisbane lily (Proiphys)
* Garland lily (Calostemma)
* River lily (Crinum pedunculatum)

Where to find warm climate bulbs?
Call Larsens Bulbs http://www.plant.id.au/larsensbulbs

More information refer to subTropical Gardening magazine - www.stgmagazine.com.au

Written by: Paul Plant, FAIH, freelance garden and landscape writer.

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