Native Bulbs

These varieties will thrive in your garden, attract pollinators, and keep blooming season after season.

November 26, 2010

For a brilliant display of flowers early next spring, you have to plant bulbs in fall. Daffodils and tulips are lovely, for sure, but you see thousands of them at strip malls and in nongardeners' yards. This fall, plant native bulbs and give your organic landscape a unique look that's more sustainable than the familiar bulbs (typically imported from Holland) without compromising on ease and beauty.

Related: The World's Most Fragrant Flowers


These lesser-known species live "on the economy." That is, they are important in the life cycles of wildlife and are aesthetically fitting- small, but essential parts of the larger flora. They naturalize, increasing their numbers readily, and attract pollinators (unlike many hybrid bulbs). Plus, many are perfect for low-water-use gardens. You can choose native bulbs that bloom nearly every month of the growing season.

Rarely carried at garden centers or big box stores, native bulbs are most readily found through mail order catalogs. Be sure the website or catalog specifically states that the bulbs were not harvested from the wild.

Related: How To Plant Bulbs

Oneleaf Onion (Allium unifolium): Deer don't normally munch on this early-summer-blooming ornamental onion. Clusters of tiny pink flowers sway on 12- to 18-inch stalks. Like most bulbs, oneleaf onion needs well-drained soil. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

Mariposa Lily (Calochortus): Mariposa means "butterfly" in Spanish, and in late spring, when they sway on willowy 18-inch stems, you may mistake them for butterflies hovering over a meadow. Set the bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep in a sunny, very well-drained spot, moist in winter and spring but dry in summer. Zones 4 to 8.

Camassia, Camas or Quamash (Camassia): Tough camassias hail from western meadows where their spiky flowers bloom in great rivers of blue. They grow in ordinary garden soil, but tolerate cold clay. Set the bulbs 3 to 5 inches deep in sun or light shade. Zones 3 to 8.

Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum): Crinums are tough, disease-resistant and salt-tolerant; their white summer flowers attract hummingbirds. Plant bulbs with the neck at ground level in sun or shade, boggy or medium soil and stand back—plants grow anywhere from two to six feet tall. Fertilize monthly with fish emulsion or homemade compost. Zones 8 to 11.

Trout Lily or Dog-tooth Violet (Erythronium): These miniature lilies-only 9 inches tall-make the floor of a wooded garden sparkle. Creamy white petals curl back to show off yellow throats. The leaves are mottled like a trout's back, giving rise to one common name. The other arose from the bulb?s shape-similar to a dog's canine tooth. With no work from you, prolific trout lily soon spreads into a colony. Plant these bulbs, pointed end up, 3 to 6 inches deep in well-drained soil where they'll get four to eight hours of spring sun a day. Zones 3 to 8.

Spider Lily (Hymenocallis): Great big--up to 7 inches across-white spidery blooms open en masse in early spring, and on and off until fall, exuding an exotic fragrance. Two-foot long, strappy foliage provides bold texture. Grows in sun or shade. Set bulbs 2 feet apart an inch below the soil surface in a bed enriched with organic matter. Zones 8 to 11.

Pretty Face (Brodiaea, a.k.a. Triteleia): In early summer, these bell-shaped flowers turn upward in succession, extending their show and their supply of fragrant cut flowers. The 18-inch stems grow in clusters, making a clump look like a tiny nosegay. Buy plenty of these inexpensive bulbs! Pretty face tolerates light shade in spring, and summer-dry soil. Incorporate humus and chicken grit for better drainage. Zones 5 to 9.