Colchicum Clear-up

My late colchicum shipment from Daffodils and More was well into bloom by the time I finished dragging my feet and placed an order.  I guess I didn’t elaborate enough on how these little guys work…. I thought everyone was obsessed with colchicums at this time of year!

Colchicums are one of the “naked lady” bulbs that bloom in fall, they come up out of the dry autumn soil and surprise you with bare flowers minus the greenery.colchicum bed

They grow their hosta-like leaves in the spring, just like other hardy bulbs, but the blooms wait till late summer before even thinking about showing up.  Colchicums are on their own schedule and if you’re a little late in getting them in the ground they’ll ignore your tardiness and go ahead and bloom anyway, soil or no soil.  No problem, since the fall rooting will just wait until the bulb returns to the damp earth before it kicks in.  This is how the bulbs looked coming out of their paper shipping bags.colchicum blooming without soil

The bulbs I received were perfect, they had all been stored upright so that the floral tube came straight up and the separate blooms sprouted normally from within the tube.  If the bulbs are stored willy-nilly the blooms come out all over the place and are a pain to plant properly.  If grown normally a bulb forms a ‘heel’ where the roots sprout from, and a tube which brings the flowers to the surface.

This bulb was planted last week and you can just start to see tiny roots growing… Sorry Annette, I just had to dig one up again to take a look and a photo!colchicum bulb heel

When you plant these already-in-growth bulbs, take care to keep the tip of the floral tube just above the soil surface.  When the leaves sprout in the spring they also come up the inside of this floral tube and use it as a path to the surface.  If planted too deeply or not facing up, the leaves cannot grow up, and as a result die underground.  This is a costly lesson to learn since colchicum bulbs aren’t all that cheap, and if a whole batch of late planted bulbs die you will feel guilty for at least three years, especially if you lose another batch the following year…. (ask me how I know this)

planting flowering colchicums

Once planted nothing much seems to bother colchicums.  The run of the mill garden types thrive in average soil and full sun to part shade and pests usually don’t bother them outside of slug attacks on the blooms.  Colchicums are in fact poisonous enough to cause a nasty end to gardener or gopher and the same compound that protects them from chewing rodents and grazing rabbits is also the original source of colchicine,  which is used to treat gout.  In the gardening world, colchicine is also the chemical treatment that will cause seeds to go into polyploidy (doubled and tripled sets of chromosomes) when the cells begin to divide.  Tetraploid daylilies are the best example I can think of, but a quick online search shows many others.  Maybe my colchicum obsession isn’t as much selfish plant lust as it is just plain old gratefulness to a bulb that keeps giving!

With the exception of a single recently dug bulb, my new colchicums are already settled into the colchicum bed.  One of their neighbors is colchicum speciosum, a vigorous, long blooming bulb.colchicum speciosum

The large speciosum (renamed as “Lilac Wonder” – Thanks Cathy!) dwarfs it’s tiny neighbor, the slightly off-white colchicum autumnale ‘Album’.   Both are very popular with the late season honeybees.  I’m going to hope the honey doesn’t take on any of the poisons!  (I’m sure it doesn’t)colchicum autumnale 'Album'

I’m thinking of giving the colchicum bed an overhaul.  The bulbs could use more elbow room and the display could use some background plantings a little more colorful than the drab mulch I threw on there this summer.  Susie over at pbmgarden got me thinking this summer about groundcovers and I think I have the perfect plan for at least a clump or two of the light pink colchicums.  I want to divide up the blue leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and spot a few colchicums into that.  Here’s where I have it right now in the front yard.  It makes a halfway decent groundcover with a long season of gentian-blue flowers and green foliage.  The leaves take on red tints with the cooler weather and the fact that it sprouts kind of late in the spring makes it an even better companion!  Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

So that’s the plan.

Just one more thing before I’m completely done with colchicums.  The word is ‘tesselation’ and it describes the geometric patterning some colchicums show.  Colchicum x agrippinum has plenty of this checkering and it’s one of my favorites.colchicum x agrippinum