Growing autumn flowering bulbs

What bulbs can I plant in my garden for flowers in Autumn?

The mere mention of the word bulb often evokes images of spring with hosts of golden daffodils or spectacular drifts of Dutch tulips. However, there is another world of bulbs that has the wonderful quality of flowering in late summer and autumn when the garden is crying out for colour. The secret of success with these bulbs lies in understanding their growing cycle that is often the opposite of the spring flowering types. So instead of planting in autumn as for the classical spring flowering bulbs, the autumn flowering types are normally planted from early to late spring depending on the species. So if you would like a bit of extra autumn colour in your life then now is the time to start planting.

There are a couple of golden rules that should be observed whatever season a bulb flowers so take particular care to feed your plant with a good handful of bulb fertiliser (usually available from garden centres) as soon as the foliage starts to come up. It is also very important to allow the foliage to die back naturally as it will continue to feed and build up the bulb for the following season whenever the leaves are green. Finally, after a number of years in the same position it is a good idea to wait until the leaves have died down and dig up the clump of bulbs that will have developed and separate them. You can either replant the bulbs through your own garden, starting new clumps in opportune positions or give them away to other gardeners.

Belladonna Lily or Naked Lady (Amaryllis belladonna)

This rather spectacular perfumed plant is one of the most versatile bulbs available to Australian gardeners. It is a very hardy bulb with no significant pests or diseases and, once established, it will flower reliably every year. The very large bulbs should be planted in mid-spring with their necks just poking out of the soil. The standard form of this species is a soft pink, however, there are different colour forms such as deep pink or white available from the various mail order bulb outlets if you are prepared to hunt around. It is well worth improving the soil with well-rotted manure before planting as the Belladonna Lily can be left in place to multiply for many years. The common name Naked Lady derives from the fact that the early autumn flowers are produced before any leaves emerge.

Golden Spider Lily (Lycoris aurea)

This is another very adaptable bulb that will perform well in all but the coldest climates. Like the Belladonna lily the flowers are produced before the leaves in early autumn but instead of pink the Golden Spider has wonderful buttery yellow narrow petals that have ruffled edges, giving them a spidery appearance. The bulbs should be planted with their necks just above soil level in mid to late spring and should be given a free draining soil in full sun. The foliage will be held right through the winter and during this time make sure the clump is well watered and also fed with a handful of slow release fertiliser as soon as the foliage has appeared.

Nerine (Spider lily)

The genus Nerine contains a number of very beautiful members with Nerine bowdenii, with its deep pink flowers, being the most widely grown. This is the probably the most versatile of the Nerines as it will grow quite comfortably in areas that receive moderate frosts as well as in warmer climates. Other colours in the Nerines include reds, whites and oranges. The bulbs should be planted towards the end of spring in a well-drained soil in dappled shade such as around the perimeter of a tree. Plant the bulbs with the neck just protruding above the soil surface.


There are so many different types of this old favourite daisy that it is hard to know where to begin. In addition to the traditional large flowered types that turn heads at agricultural shows, there are also now a number of dwarf varieties with a range of flower sizes. The extraordinary diversity of flower types is another feature of the Dahlias with anemone, spider, pompon and cactus types giving an idea of the exotic shapes that are on offer. Rather than growing from a beautiful round bulb, Dahlias grow from tuberous roots that are a lot like carrots in the way they are constructed with an eye or vegetative bud at the top of each root. When planted at the beginning of spring the top of the tuberous roots should be 50-75 mm below the soil surface. Give them full sun and a well drained, compost enriched soil and you will be rewarded with blooms through the autumn. To be certain of success the following year it is advisable to dig up the roots after flowering and store them in a well-aerated position in a garden shed until replanted the following spring. Alternatively you can leave them in position in the garden and take your chances.

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

The heady perfume of this adaptable bulb is something to treasure in the garden in late summer and early autumn. The most commonly available form is a double flowered type called ‘The Pearl’ and the bulbs should be planted about 75mm deep in the soil or potting mix at the beginning of spring. The flower stems will reach a height of up to a metre and make superb cut flowers. In warm climates they can be left in the ground to multiply of their own accord.

Most of the bulbs mentioned above are available through mail order nurseries that are commonly advertised in gardening magazines or from packaged bulbs sold through nurseries and chain stores. Alternatively, most of these bulbs multiply freely in the ground and naturalize so if you can find a friend with a clump then offer to lift and separate their plants as this will not only encourage the original clump to flower better but will also provide you with bulbs to start your own lovely autumn bulb patch.