A great many of the most popular spring-flowering bulbs require a cold-winter period that allows the bulbs to "reset" themselves. Gardeners in colder growing zones can accomplish this simply by leaving the bulbs in the ground for the winter. Gardeners in the warmer climates of USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and higher often don't have winters cold enough to grow some of the these—at least not without special techniques. Or, they will need to plant many of these spring-flowering bulbs as annuals, discarding them after the bloom period is over.
Growing Spring-Flowering Bulb in Warm Climates
The most familiar spring flowering bulbs are flowers such as daffodils and tulips, which require a period of chilling in order to bloom. These can also be grown in warmer climates if they are pre-chilled and then planted in the early spring. Prechilling isn’t difficult and can easily be done in the refrigerator. You can even purchase bulbs that have been prechilled for you. After flowering is completed, they can even be dug up, stored, and then put through another refrigerated chilling period and replanted for repeated blooming.
However, there are many spring-blooming bulbs, including some listed here, that don’t require a cold winter and are especially suited to growing in warmer climates. They are easier to grow in areas without frost, most are perennial, and because they are native to warm climates, they often look more appropriate. But if your heart is set on daffodils and tulips, there are also some tips for growing them in warmer climates.
Planting Spring-Flowering Bulbs in Warm Climates
Warm climates can vary greatly, not just in USDA zone, but also in the amount of rainfall, temperature fluctuations, and duration and intensity of heat. So there is no one size fits all growing advice. In general, most spring-blooming bulbs can be planted in fall and winter. The warmer your climate, the later you should plant. But check with your Cooperative Extension Service for local recommendations.
To keep your bulbs coming back, you’ll need to feed them with an all-purpose bulb fertilizer or bone meal. The best times to do this are when the foliage appears and as the blooms fade, usually in about March and May/June.
Some online sources of bulbs or warmer climates include:
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There are hundreds of alliums to choose from. Alliums are ornamental cousins of onion and garlic and aren’t usually bothered by animal pests precisely because of the taste. (The exception is the vole, which will eat newly planted bulbs over the winter.) The flowers are globe-shaped umbrels or sprays that sit atop long straight stems. There’s a variety of colors and heights to blend into any garden. Two of the best are ‘Purple Sensation’, shown here, and Allium cristophii (star of Persia) which looks like a lit sparkler.
Alliums prefer full sun and relatively dry soil. It is a good plant for drought conditions.
Zones: 4 to 10
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This tall member of the Amaryllidaceae family is topped with a circle of trumpet-shaped flowers, usually either white, pink, or some combination of the two. Plant them so that the neck of the bulb is just above the soil and give it plenty of water while it’s growing. Although it likes heat, it prefers fairly moist soil.
Crinum may be a summer bloomer in the northern part of the hardiness range. It may survive as far north as zone 6, although not reliably.
Zones: 8 to 11
03 of 10
Gloriosa Lily (Gloriosa spp.)
The gloriosa lily (Gloriosa spp., G. rothschildiana and G. superba) is actually a tuberous perennial. It sprawls and scrambles through other plants, lifting its bright reddish and/or yellow, lily-like flower heads above the foliage. This habit lends the plant its other common names—climbing lily or flame lily.
Unlike most bulbs, gloriosa lily prefers some afternoon shade. Once naturalized, it blooms in early summer, but for early bloom, it is often started indoors and transplanted into the garden. It is often grown in containers rather than in the garden.
Zones: 8 to 11
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The Kaffir lily is another easy-going member of the Amaryllidaceae family, with clusters of bright tubular flowers on top of stiff, straight flower stalks. The Kaffir lily likes to be crowded, but they are not happy in wet soil.
In warm climates, this plant will bloom in winter through early spring. The flowers are quite long-lasting, but the plant may require three years of maturing before it flowers.
Zones: 9 to 11Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Paperwhites are a miniature form of daffodil, probably the most popular forced spring bloomers, simply because they need so little prodding to grow. The fragrance is either loved or hated and can be a bit strong in a small room. However, paperwhites grow well outdoors in warm climates and will usually naturalize.
Paperwhites need relatively dry soil since wet soils can cause the bulbs to rot. The bulbs easily spread to blanket ground areas. The plant is distasteful to deer, rabbits, and squirrels, making it a good choice where these animal pests are a problem.
Zones: 4 to 9
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Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum)
Although Leucojum actually translates as “white violet” and these plants do have a violet-like scent, the common name "spring snowflake" is a good visual description of this plant. The dainty white, drooping, cup-shaped flowers are very similar to snowdrop (Galanthus), but Leucojum holds up better in the heat. There is also a summer-blooming variety (Leucojum aestivum) species.
Leucojum vernum likes moist, even boggy conditions and it readily spreads as it naturalizes. Flower stalks are 8 to 10 inches tall, and the plant works well when planted in drifts in rock gardens or below shrubs and trees.
Zones: 3 to 9
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Spider Lily (Hymenocallis caroliniana)
Spider lilies have a similar appearance to spider daffodils, with a trumpet surrounded by six narrow, spidery petals. Plant them so that the bulb’s neck is just above ground level and don’t let them get too much water during their summer dormancy. Don’t confuse these with the red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), which blooms in the fall.
Spider lily likes relatively moist soil conditions, and in the northern part of its hardiness range in may bloom a bit later, in early to mid-summer.
Zones: 8 to 10
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Bugle Lily (Watsonia)
Watsonia is not a true bulb, but rather a corm, planted in a similar fashion to gladiolas. In northern climates, the corms are often dug up and stored over the winter for spring replanting. You’ll need to be in a very warm climate to grow Watsonia outdoors, but if you can, you’ll be rewarded with spikes of tubular blossoms in shades of red, orange, pink and white that start blooming in late winter and carry on into spring. At the northern part of the range (zone 8), the corms should be covered with mulch over the winter.
Soggy soils can rot the corms; this plant prefers very well-drained soil.
Zones: 8 to 10Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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To grow daffodils in frost-free climates, you will need to plant pre-chilled bulbs. For daffodils, most warm-climate experts recommend either Division Seven (jonquilla); or Division Eight (tazetta), which includes the popular paperwhites. These are of Mediterranean origin and thus don’t require pre-chilling. They are also fragrant and could very well perennialize and rebloom, although that isn’t the general rule. (Many other spring bulbs will flower for warm-climate gardeners if they are pre-chilled, but they are generally grown as annuals, with new bulbs chilled and planted each year.)
Daffodils have the advantage of being distasteful to rabbits, squirrels, and deer, making them a good choice where these animal pests are a problem.
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Tulips require prechilling when grown in warm climates. They also need cool spring temperatures. If you must have tulips in your warm-climate garden, look for early-blooming types. ‘Lady Jane' tulips are the big favorite among southern gardeners and the Clusiana species and hybrids are especially recommended by Brent & Becky’s Bulbs. They originate in the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor, and Caucasus, and they handle the climate better than Dutch hybrids, which prefer colder winters. Darwin Hybrid tulips are also good choices for warm climates.