Colchicums: Cool Fall Color

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I wish I had colchicums in my garden now. I used to grow them, and they never failed to wow me in the fall, when they would send up big, showy flowers from the grass or bed. No foliage – just great waterlily-type flowers.

Often called “autumn crocuses,” colchicums aren’t crocuses at all. They’re part of the lily family, and they are the only bulbs known to bloom while they’re dormant. (Actually, they are corms, not bulbs, however since most gardeners refer to them as bulbs, that’s what I’ll call them here.)

Colchicums produce foliage in the spring, but then the foliage dies back, leaving no trace of the plant. The flowers emerge in late September and October, showing spring-like mauves, pinks and even a stunning white – an unexpected and refreshing change from the usual autumn garden colors. They like to get several hours of sun a day, but will tolerate some shade. Plant them in a well-drained spot, and let them dry out a bit more while they are dormant.

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Colchicums have a narrow window of planting and blooming. You can buy and plant them in the fall and enjoy instant gratification with flowers a couple of weeks later. For that reason, they are not always available at garden centers, and most people end up buying them from mail order sites.  The bulbs can be pricey, but the plants are very easy to divide, and your initial investment of between $5 and $15 per bulb can yield many plants in just a couple of years.

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About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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4 Responses to Colchicums: Cool Fall Color

  1. I planted a few colchicums in various areas of my garden last year. They flowered,sent up their leaves in the spring and died back normally. However, they failed to flower this year. When I dug up a bulb to check on them, the skin was still there, but it was hollow in the middle. Any idea whay could have happened?

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    • dirtynailz says:

      Mice and voles often attack bulbs, including colchicums. However, you say the skin was still intact when you dug up your bulbs, and you do not mention seeing any evidence of gnawing.
      Your colchicums could have been victims of botrytis or “gray mold.”
      Here’s an interesting article on the botrytis fungus.
      http://web.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/pdf_pubs/623.pdf
      Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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  2. Wendy says:

    I have pesty squirrels that try to dig up everything I plant as well! Nice post on colchicums. I think I recently said, “nice crocuses” to a blogger that very obviously was showing his colchicums. Well, now I know.

    neat bed of pretty colchicums!

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    • dirtynailz says:

      I have “squirrel issues” too. One year I planted 100 crocuses and they ate all but 4!
      I really like the combination of the colchicums and coleus. They seem to complement each other.

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