Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Time to Order Colchicums

Colchicum autumnale

The colchicum (often falsely called autumn crocus, which is a very different bulb) is a beautiful autumn-flowering bulb that is hardy from zones 4 to 8, even zone 3 if the sector enjoys good snow cover. The spectacular flowers do indeed resemble giant crocuses, although they belong to their own botanical family, the Colchicaceae (crocuses belong to the Iridaceae family).

Colchicum ‘Waterlily’

Curiously, most colchicums flower in the fall, emerging from the ground without foliage, thus creating a particularly stunning effect. The leaves only appear the following spring, at the same time as the leaves of other hardy bulbs, then disappear in the summer. You plant colchicums in early September… and the flowers bloom only a few days later.

Over time, the colony will multiply and you can divide them to fill your flowerbeds with these beautiful flowers.

Plant your colchicums as soon as you get them or they will flower without even being planted.

You will not find colchicums in most garden centers, however, as they haven’t the faintest idea how to handle these bulbs. You see, they should be planted almost as soon as they arrive, otherwise the start to bloom on the shelf (yes, with no soil at all!). So essentially, colchicums only have a shelf life of a week, two at most. My local garden center ordered some once and just put them out on display with the other bulbs. While they had from September to November to sell their tulips and narcissus bulbs, the two-week window they had to sell colchicum bulbs wasn’t enough and most remained unsold. They never offered colchicums again.

Mail Order is the Way to Go

The logical way of obtaining colchium bulbs is to order them by mail. Bulb growers know just when to ship them (early September) so you can plant them and watch them bloom only a few days later.

In the US, try such sources as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, White Flower Farm or McClure & Zimmerman. In Canada, try Fraser’s Thimble Farms, Botanus or Veseys.

In other countries, check the Internet for a bulb source near you.

Don’t Eat ‘Em

Colchicums are poisonous, so don’t eat them. But then, don’t eat any plant unless you know it safe to eat. Even tomato, potato and rhubarb plants can poison you if you eat the wrong part.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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