Fall Blooming Bulbs: Lycoris & Colchicum

Published On: September 1st, 2021

Most gardeners are familiar with planting hardy bulbs in autumn for spring bloom, but did you know that there are also bulbs that can be planted in autumn that will provide fall blossoms for years to come? Two such fall blooming bulbs are Lycoris and Colchicum. Both produce large, abundant flowers at a most unexpected time of year, thereby adding fresh, vibrant flowers during a season that is usually dominated by plant decline. Both are plants that are striking enough that passers-by may stop and admire them and may even venture to ask you about them!

Fall Blooming Bulb: Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris is an Amaryllis relative that goes by a plethora of entertaining common names: Surprise Lily, Naked Ladies, Magic Lily, Hardy Amaryllis, and Resurrection Lily. Aptly named, the 18″-24″ leafless stems arise in August – as if out of nowhere – and are topped by clusters of large, fragrant, Amaryllis-like, rose-lilac flowers with subtle blue-violet overtones. It is an outstanding addition to the late summer & fall garden. Lycoris will slowly increase over time by bulb offshoots and by seed if seedpods are allowed to develop and mature after blooming.

Green strap-like foliage is produced in early spring and will grow for weeks before aging to yellow and fading into summer dormancy. Make sure to allow this process to occur for the plant to produce needed energy for its fall bloom cycle. Be aware that the first year after planting your bulb, it may only produce foliage and it may not bloom until its second year in the ground.

You should fall blooming bulbs like Lycoris as early in the fall season as possible. When planting, bury bulbs so that the top of the bulb is 5”-6” below soil and space at least 6” apart. Lycoris is happiest growing in full to the sun in well-drained fertile soils but is tolerant of deciduous shade since that will provide sun to the spring foliage. Excess moisture during the summer dormancy period should be avoided.

Lycoris squamigera in a Nutshell:

  • Mature height: 18”-24”
  • Mature spread: 12”-18”
  • Bloom Season: Late Summer/Early Fall
  • Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Growth form: Strap-like spring foliage. Summer dormant. Tall leafless stems bear flowers in August-September.
  • Flowers: Clusters of large, fragrant, Amaryllis-like, rose-lilac flowers
  •  USDA Hardiness Zone: Zones 5-9
  • Especially valuable as:
    • Fall specimen plant
    • Deer & rabbit resistance (all parts are toxic)
    • Good choice for cottage gardens and perennial borders
lycoris squamigera emerging green foliage on fall blooming bulb in wisconsin
lycoris squamigera blossom pink flower bulbs with ferns in shade garden

Fall Blooming Bulb: Colchicum ‘The Giant’

Although Colchicum is not a true crocus, it is referred to as “Autumn Crocus”, due to its large, showy, crocus-like flowers that are produced in late autumn. Colchicum bulbs are much larger than crocus bulbs and each large bulb produces a cluster of blooms. Like Lycoris, Colchicum’s bold green foliage emerges in spring and goes into dormancy for the summer months. Then – just when the garden is starting to look tired and finished – striking, large cup-like “naked” (leafless) flowers appear. In southeastern Wisconsin, flowers usually appear in late September through October, at a time when their vibrant beauty is much appreciated.

This bulb is best planted in late summer or earliest autumn before most other fall bulbs are planted. Bury the bulb so that the top of the bulb 3”-4” below soil surface. Bulbs are so impatient to bloom that they will produce flowers right in the retail display unit if they are not planted promptly!

Colchicum is esteemed for its late-season showiness and is also valued for medicinal purposes. The compound Colchicine, derived from this plant, is used in the treatment of several serious medical conditions. As with many powerful compounds, though, Colchicine is highly toxic. This plant is safe to include in the garden if you do not have inquisitive pets that are prone to eating your garden flowers. Deer & rabbits are wise enough not to touch it!

Colchicum ‘The Giant’ in a Nutshell:

  • Mature height: 6”-10”
  • Mature spread: 8”-12”
  • Bloom Season: September/October
  • Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Growth form: Bold green Hosta-like foliage in spring. Summer dormant. Leafless stems bear large, cup-like flowers in late fall.
  • Flowers: Huge single mauve-pink crocus-like flowers with prominent contrasting white centers.  Very Showy!
  •  USDA Hardiness Zone: Zones 4-9
  • Especially valuable as:
    • Fall specimen plant
    • Deer & rabbit resistant
    • Good choice for cottage gardens and perennial or shrub borders
    • Heirloom, Circa 1925
colchicum autumn crocus closeup blossom pink flower bulb
colchicum autumn crocus closeup of flower on fall blooming bulbs