• The Best Fall-Planted Bulbs For Dry Areas

 

By David Salman, Chief Horticulturist

Spring-flowering bulbs are a unique group of pollinator-friendly flowers that have been a staple of gardening in Europe and the U.S. for many years. These fall-planted, flowering plants are easy additions to our landscapes. They light up the spring garden before many other plants wake up and come into flower, providing essential early season nectar for bees and other pollinators.

Fall-planted bulbs, such as the Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) pictured above, bloom in the spring and provide essential early season nectar for bees and other pollinators.Fall-planted bulbs, such as the Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) pictured above, bloom in the spring and provide essential early season nectar for bees and other pollinators.
Fall-planted bulbs, such as the Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) pictured above, bloom in the spring and provide essential early season nectar for bees and other pollinators.

Tips For Growing Fall-Planted, Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs depend on two climatic factors to do well in our landscapes:

  1. Cold winter temperatures. Fall planted, spring blooming bulbs need many hours below 40° F to bloom. For warm zones where winter temperatures do not reach freezing, you can pre-chill bulbs before planting in spring.
  2. Good winter and spring moisture. Spring precipitation helps bring them back into active growth and flowering.

 

Many gardeners want to know if spring-blooming bulbs are good waterwise (xeric or drought resistant) plants for drier growing conditions. The answer depends on where you are in the U.S:

  • In parts of the country that get 30" or more annual rainfall, bulbs generally will not need any additional irrigation, unless winter snow cover is thin and spring conditions are unusually dry.
    • In the Western U.S., where there isn't as much rainfall (20-25" or less anually), most bulbs will need some supplemental irrigation. Where snow coverage is unpredictable and spring rains erratic, it is essential that beds where bulbs are planted be watered every week to two weeks to keep the soil moist to a depth of 6-12".
  • In higher elevation areas where winter/early spring snows leave the soil moist, bulbs will only need extra water if conditions are unusually dry.

Mulching is an essential technique for growing bulbs in drier climates. A nice 1-2" deep blanket of coarse compost, composted bark, or other non-gravel material applied in late fall will conserve soil moisture, and enrich the soil as it decomposes.

When fall-planted bulbs receive sufficient moisture and cold temperatures over the winter and during early spring months, there is little else we need to do to keep them happy. They only need nutrients and space to grow. Here are a few long-term maintenance tips for growing spring flowering bulbs:

  • Feed the soil where bulbs are growing with organic and natural fertilizers in mid-spring.
  • Divide bulb clumps that are blooming sparsely. Dig them up in the fall and pull apart tightly clustered bulbs; then re-plant after enriching their soil.
  • After blooming, spring-flowering bulbs have already adapted to hot, dry summer conditions by going dormant in summer. They shed their foliage by early summer or earlier, resting underground as a "sleeping" bulb. Only trim foliage after it has yellowed, to allow the bulb to "recharge" for next season's blooms.
Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) is a fall-planted bulb recommended for dry or drought conditions, and its 1" flower clusters start blooming late spring and continue into early summer.Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) is a fall-planted bulb recommended for dry or drought conditions, and its 1" flower clusters start blooming late spring and continue into early summer.
Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) is a fall-planted bulb recommended for dry or drought conditions, and its 1" flower clusters start blooming late spring and continue into early summer.

Our Top Picks For Fall Planted Bulbs In Dry Areas

With sufficient extra irrigation: most fall bulbs will do well in drier climates. Large flowered TulipsDaffodilsScillaHyacinths, and most other fall-planted bulbs are good to plant.

For landscapes that have limited water available for irrigation: The spring flowering bulbs listed below are the most tolerant of dry soil. In areas that get 15-20" or less of annual precipitation, even these more xeric bulbs will need supplemental spring watering of 2" or more per month once the soil thaws.

 
Shop All TulipsShop All Tulips
Tarda Wildflower Tulip

Wildflower Tulips

  1. Yellow and White Tulip Bulbs, Tulipa, Tulip Bulbs Tarda

    Tarda Tulip is a very showy star-shaped wildflower tulip that opens to reveal a bright yellow center and white tips. This tulip naturalizes easily, meaning it will multiply and sprea...

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    Tarda Wildflower Tulip Tarda Wildflower Tulip Tulipa Tarda
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    Tarda Tulip is a very showy star-shaped wildflower tulip that opens to reveal a bright yellow center and white tips. This tulip naturalizes easily, meaning it will multiply and spread, returning each year. Native to central Asia.

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  2. Magenta  and Yellow pulchella Bulbs Persian Pearl, Tulipa praestans, Tulip pulchella Bulbs Persian Pearl

    Persian Pearl Wildflower Tulip has showy purple-red petals and a bright yellow center. Like most of the wildflower tulips, Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl multiplies itself readily....

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    Persian Pearl Wildflower Tulip Persian Pearl Wildflower Tulip Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl
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    Persian Pearl Wildflower Tulip has showy purple-red petals and a bright yellow center. Like most of the wildflower tulips, Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl multiplies itself readily.
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  3. Red and Orange Tulip Bulbs, Little Princess Tulipa In Container Pot, Wildflower Tulips, Specie Tulips

    Little Princess Wildflower Tulip is multi-colored a multi-colored beauty of reddish orange, primrose yellow, burnt orange and gold. A striking hybrid has excellent vigor and blooms h...

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    Little Princess Wildflower Tulip Little Princess Wildflower Tulip Tulipa Little Princess
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    Little Princess Wildflower Tulip is multi-colored a multi-colored beauty of reddish orange, primrose yellow, burnt orange and gold. A striking hybrid has excellent vigor and blooms heavily.
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  4. Pink and Blue Tulip Bulbs, Tulipa, Wildflower Tulip Bulbs Little Beauty

    Tulipa humilis Little Beauty has rich, reddish-pink petals and a bright blue-eyed center. A wonderful hybrid companion to 'Little Princess', this vigorous variety is a delight in the...

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    Little Beauty Wildflower Tulip Little Beauty Wildflower Tulip Tulipa humilis Little Beauty
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    Tulipa humilis Little Beauty has rich, reddish-pink petals and a bright blue-eyed center. A wonderful hybrid companion to 'Little Princess', this vigorous variety is a delight in the garden. Fragrant. Looks wonderful planted in large groups.

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Allium (Ornamental) & Lavender - two purple flowers planted in the gardenAllium (Ornamental) & Lavender - two purple flowers planted in the garden
Allium & Lavender

Alliums | Ornamental Onions

  1. Allium ostrowskianum Close Up

    Allium ostrowskianum (Pink Allium) has showy 2" diameter rose-pink flower clusters. A super cold hardy wildflower Allium. Interplant with perennials and groundcovers....

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    Pink Allium Pink Ornamental Onion Allium ostrowskianum
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    Allium ostrowskianum (Pink Allium) has showy 2" diameter rose-pink flower clusters. A super cold hardy wildflower Allium. Interplant with perennials and groundcovers.
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  2. Purple Allium aflatunense Bulbs Purple Sensation, Allium aflatunense, Allium aflatunense Bulbs Purple Sensation

    Purple Sensation Allium blooms with large violet-purple globe shaped flowers on tall stems. A fantastic nectar source for the bees....

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    Purple Sensation Allium Purple Sensation Ornamental Onion Allium aflatunense Purple Sensation
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    Purple Sensation Allium blooms with large violet-purple globe shaped flowers on tall stems. A fantastic nectar source for the bees.
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  3. Yellow Allium moly Bulbs Jeannine, Allium moly, Allium moly Bulbs Jeannine

    Yellow Allium moly Jeannine is a vigorous cultivar with showy bright yellow 2"-3" diameter flower heads and attractive flat bladed blue-green foliage....

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    Jeannine Yellow Allium Jeannine Yellow Ornamental Onion Allium moly Jeannine
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    Yellow Allium moly Jeannine is a vigorous cultivar with showy bright yellow 2"-3" diameter flower heads and attractive flat bladed blue-green foliage.
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  4. Blue Allium azureum Bulbs, Allium azureum, Allium azureum Bulbs

    True-Blue Allium (Allium azureum) flowers are the gardener's holy grail, and this Siberian native provides them in abundance. Allium azureum (Ornamental Onion) is easily grown and de...

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    True Blue Allium True Blue Ornamental Onion Allium azureum
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    True-Blue Allium (Allium azureum) flowers are the gardener's holy grail, and this Siberian native provides them in abundance. Allium azureum (Ornamental Onion) is easily grown and decorates the garden with plenty of 1 1/2" round flax-blue flowers.
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Harmony Specie IrisHarmony Specie Iris
Harmony Specie Iris

Specie Iris (Mini Iris)

  1. Iris reticulata Bulbs Dark Blue (Bulb)

    Iris reticulata Dark Blue (Specie Iris Dark Blue) will reward you will dark blue blooms in early spring. Extremely cold hardy, this wildflower Iris can be grown almost anywhere from ...

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    Dark Blue Specie Iris (Mini Iris) Dark Blue Specie Iris (Mini Iris) Iris reticulata Dark Blue
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    Iris reticulata Dark Blue (Specie Iris Dark Blue) will reward you will dark blue blooms in early spring. Extremely cold hardy, this wildflower Iris can be grown almost anywhere from zones 2-10.
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  2. Purple Iris histrioides George, Mini Iris Bulbs, Specie Iris

    Iris histrioides George is a Mini Iris with early-blooming, fragrant plum purple flowers with a touch of yellow that grows to about 6" tall. Good for forcing, rock gardens and perenn...

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    George Specie Iris (Mini Iris) George Specie Iris (Mini Iris) Iris histrioides George
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    Iris histrioides George is a Mini Iris with early-blooming, fragrant plum purple flowers with a touch of yellow that grows to about 6" tall. Good for forcing, rock gardens and perennial beds.
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  3. Yellow and Blue Iris reticulata Bulbs Harmony, Iris reticulata, Specie Iris Harmony

    A particularly strong spreader in the garden, 'Harmony' will create a carpet of bright blue in just a few seasons....

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    Harmony Specie Iris (Mini Iris) Harmony Specie Iris (Mini Iris) Iris reticulata Harmony
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    A particularly strong spreader in the garden, 'Harmony' will create a carpet of bright blue in just a few seasons.
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  4. Dwarf Iris Mixture, Specie Iris Mix, Iris reticulata, Iris danfordiae

    This Dwarf Iris Mix (Specie Iris Mix) has bright yellow blooms of Iris danfordiae contrasting with the purple flowers of Iris reticulata. This Iris mix is extremely cold hardy, and c...

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    Dwarf Specie Iris Mix (Mini Iris) Dwarf Specie Iris Mix (Mini Iris) Iris reticulata and danfordiaea Mix
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    This Dwarf Iris Mix (Specie Iris Mix) has bright yellow blooms of Iris danfordiae contrasting with the purple flowers of Iris reticulata. This Iris mix is extremely cold hardy, and can be grown from zones 2-10.
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Jessie Spring StarflowerJessie Spring Starflower
Jessie Spring Starflower

Starflower | Ipheion

  1. Pink Ipheion Bulbs Charlotte Bishop, Ipheion, Spring Starflower Charlotte Bishop

    A nice pink version of Star Flower that is the best pink in this genus by far! Early to mid- spring bloomer....

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    Charlotte Bishop Spring Starflower Charlotte Bishop Spring Starflower Ipheion Charlotte Bishop
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    A nice pink version of Star Flower that is the best pink in this genus by far! Early to mid- spring bloomer.
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  2. White Ipheion Bulbs Alberto Castillo, Ipheion, Spring Starflower Alberto Castillo

    'Alberto Castillo' is a very large flowered pure white variety with excellent fragrance. Early to mid- spring bloomer....

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    Alberto Castillo Spring Starflower Alberto Castillo Spring Starflower Ipheion Alberto Castillo
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    'Alberto Castillo' is a very large flowered pure white variety with excellent fragrance. Early to mid- spring bloomer.
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  3. Ipheion uniflorum, Spring Starflower Jessie close up

    The darkest blue of all the Ipheion, 'Jessie' will color your garden beginning in early spring. Very long blooming, the flowers will continue for at least 8 weeks! Fragrant too....

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    Jessie Spring Starflower Jessie Spring Starflower Ipheion uniflorum Jessie
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    The darkest blue of all the Ipheion, 'Jessie' will color your garden beginning in early spring. Very long blooming, the flowers will continue for at least 8 weeks! Fragrant too.
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A Crocus LawnA Crocus Lawn
A Crocus Lawn

Crocus

  1. Yellow and Purple and White Dutch Crocus Bulb Mix, Crocus vernus and Crocus flavus, Dutch Crocus Bulb Mix

    A colorful mix of large flowered hybrid Crocus, these are mid-spring blooming and follow the smaller, earlier blooming snow Crocus....

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    Dutch Crocus Mix Dutch Crocus Mix Crocus vernus and Crocus flavus Mix
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    A colorful mix of large flowered hybrid Crocus, these are mid-spring blooming and follow the smaller, earlier blooming snow Crocus.
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  2. Crocus chrysanthus Orange Monarch, Crocus Orange Monarch

    from winter’s doldrums. Like a field of butterflies, the deep, rich orange petals of early blooming ‘Orange Monarch’ emerge in early spring with narrow, grass-like leaves, and ...

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    Orange Monarch Snow Crocus Orange Monarch Snow Crocus Crocus chrysanthus Orange Monarch
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    from winter’s doldrums. Like a field of butterflies, the deep, rich orange petals of early blooming ‘Orange Monarch’ emerge in early spring with narrow, grass-like leaves, and 3-4" tall blooms. The outside of the petals is a dramatic garnet-black giving them a rich jewel-tone glow. Plant these in the fall, and in dense groupings so that the color will make an impact. Perfect for a rock garden or rocky nook, path edge, or any place you will be able to appreciate them as winter gives way to spring.
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  3. Yellow and Purple Crocus chrysanthus Bulbs Advance, Crocus chrysanthus, Crocus chrysanthus Bulbs Advance

    As the snow melts 'Advance' begins to bloom with its striking bi-color flowers; the petals are violet on the outside and soft yellow on the inside....

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    Advance Wild Crocus Advance Wild Crocus Crocus chrysanthus Advance
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    As the snow melts 'Advance' begins to bloom with its striking bi-color flowers; the petals are violet on the outside and soft yellow on the inside.
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  4. Dutch Crocus Bulbs Yellow Mammoth

    Yellow Mammoth Dutch Crocus bulbs bloom in early spring with a stunning display of large, bright yellow flowers....

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    Yellow Mammoth Dutch Crocus Yellow Mammoth Dutch Crocus Crocus flavus Yellow Mammoth
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    Yellow Mammoth Dutch Crocus bulbs bloom in early spring with a stunning display of large, bright yellow flowers.
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Camas LiliesCamas Lilies
Camas Lilies

More Unique Bulbs For Dry Areas

  1. Blue Camassia quamash Bulbs, Camassia quamash, Cammas Lily Bulbs

    Camas Lily is a lovely native bulb species that blooms in late spring with clear blue flowers. Camassia quamash Bulbs are an excellent choice for moist loam and clay soils....

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    Camas Lily Camas Lily Camassia quamash
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    Camas Lily is a lovely native bulb species that blooms in late spring with clear blue flowers. Camassia quamash Bulbs are an excellent choice for moist loam and clay soils.
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  2. Blue Muscari armeniacum Bulbs, Muscari armeniacum, Grape Hyacinth

    The deep blue fragrant flower clusters resemble upside-down grapes. Muscari re-seeds readily, and spreads to form colorful colonies....

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    Grape Hyacinth Grape Hyacinth Muscari armeniacum
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    The deep blue fragrant flower clusters resemble upside-down grapes. Muscari re-seeds readily, and spreads to form colorful colonies.
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  3. Muscari Bulbs Delft Blue Mix, Muscari armeniacum, Grape Hyacinth Delft Blue Mix

    A wonderful mixture of blue and light blue Muscari, these colorful mid-spring bloomers are long lived and naturalize easily in your garden....

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    Delft Blue Grape Hyacinth Mix Delft Blue Grape Hyacinth Mix Muscari armeniacum Delft Blue Mix
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    A wonderful mixture of blue and light blue Muscari, these colorful mid-spring bloomers are long lived and naturalize easily in your garden.
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  4. Blue Scilla siberica Bulbs

    This long lived, deer resistant bulb blooms in early spring with deep blue flowers....

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    Siberian Squill Siberian Squill Scilla siberica
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    This long lived, deer resistant bulb blooms in early spring with deep blue flowers.
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by High Country Gardens

Best Fall-Planted Bulbs For Dry Areas
Fall-planted bulbs, such as the Allium sphaerocephalon pictured above, bloom in the spring and provide essential early season nectar for bees and other pollinators.

Xeric Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs are a unique group of pollinator-friendly flowers that have been a staple of ornamental gardening in Europe and the U.S. for many years. These fall-planted, flowering plants are low-care additions to our landscapes, and they light up the spring garden before many other plants wake up and come into flower, providing essential early season nectar for bees.

Necessities for Successful Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs depend on two climatic factors to do well in our landscapes:

  1. Cold winter temperatures — sufficient hours below 40° F (Seek out low chill or pre-chilled bulbs for Zones 9 & 10).
  2. Good winter and spring moisture to bring them back into active growth and flowering.

After blooming, spring-flowering bulbs have already adapted to hot, dry summer conditions by going summer dormant (shedding their foliage by early summer or earlier) and resting underground as a "sleeping" bulb.

Other Maintenance For Long Term Success

When fall-planted bulbs receive sufficient moisture and cold temperatures over the winter and during early spring months, there is little else we need to do to keep them happy. They only need nutrients and space to grow.

  • Feed the soil where bulbs are growing with organic and natural fertilizers in mid-spring.
  • Divide bulb clumps that are blooming sparsely. Dig them up in the fall and pull apart tightly clustered bulbs; then re-plant after enriching their soil.

How Much Moisture is Enough?

Much attention has been directed toward drought conditions this summer in California and the Pacific Northwest. And gardeners want to know if spring-blooming bulbs are good waterwise (xeric or drought resistant) plants for drier growing conditions. The answer depends on where you are in the U.S. For many parts of the country that get 30" or more of precipitation annually, bulbs generally will not need any additional irrigation, unless winter snow cover is thin and spring conditions are unusually dry.

In the Western U.S. where there isn't as much rain and snow (20-25" or less), most bulbs will need some supplemental irrigation.

  • In higher elevation areas where winter/early spring snows leave the soil moist, bulbs will only need extra water if conditions are unusually dry.
  • Where snow coverage is unpredictable.and spring rains erratic, it is essential that beds where bulbs are planted be watered every week to two weeks to keep the soil moist to a depth of 6-12".

Mulching is an essential technique for growing bulbs in drier climates. A nice 1-2" deep blanket of coarse compost, composted bark, or other non-gravel material applied in late fall will conserve soil moisture and enrich the soil as it decomposes.

Fall Bulb Varieties That Tolerate Drier Conditions

Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) is a fall-planted bulb recommended for dry conditions.
Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) is a fall-planted bulb recommended for dry or drought conditions, and its 1" egg-shaped flowers start in late spring and continue into the summer.

With sufficient extra irrigation, most fall bulbs will do well in drier climates. Large flowered Tulips, Daffodils, Scilla, Hyacinths, and most other fall-planted bulbs are good to plant.

For landscapes that have limited water available for irrigation, the spring flowering bulbs listed below, along with any of the Starflowers (Ipheon), are the most tolerant of dry soil. In areas that get 15-20" or less of annual precipitation, even these more xeric bulbs will need supplemental spring watering of 2" or more per month once the soil thaws.

Tulips
Grape Hyacinth
Ornamental Onions (Allium)
Cammas Lily

Camassia quamash bulbs like it moist during the spring (planted in low spots or moist areas) and bone dry over the summer. It is an excellent xeric species for the Pacific Northwest where it is native.

Crocus
Squill
Dwarf Iris
Lebanon Squill Puschkinia libanotica bloom in early to mid-spring.
The ice-blue flowers of Lebanon Squill (Puschkinia libanotica) bloom in early to mid-spring. An excellent naturalizing species and perfect companion for Daffodils, it thrives in sun to partial shade and will naturalize and spread gently once established.

Text by David Salman.

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