Plant ant of the week: Colchicum

These flam­boy­ant bulbs herald the ap­proach of au­tumn

Garden News (UK) - - Contents -

Colchicums are har­bin­gers of change in the gar­den­ing cal­en­dar, erupt­ing into life from late sum­mer with clus­ters of vi­brant pink or white blooms. The fact they flower from bare earth at this time without a leaf in sight has given rise to their com­mon name of au­tumn cro­cus, even though they’re not re­lated to cro­cus at all!

Colchicums pro­duce corms, rather than bulbs, much larger than those of cro­cus. They can be planted up to the point buds ap­pear as they’ll flower ir­re­spec­tive of whether they’re in the ground or not. They’re poi­sonous, so take care and wash your hands after han­dling.

After their spec­tac­u­lar flow­ers have faded colchicums pro­duce a rosette of sur­pris­ingly large, glossy, spear-shaped leaves in spring, last­ing un­til early sum­mer be­fore dy­ing down for the sum­mer, be­fore flow­er­ing again in early au­tumn. Take care where you place them as while they might look great in au­tumn, they might cre­ate a prob­lem after leaves ap­pear. Colchicum will grow in most moist, well-drained soil, but es­pe­cially those which are chalky.

They thrive in sun or dap­pled shade and are ideal for nat­u­ral­is­ing in short, rough grass­land around trees and shrubs. They also cre­ate sea­sonal im­pact in pots of loam­based com­post.

Plant dry corms in sum­mer, with the nose planted around 7½cm (3in) deep and 15cm (6in) apart. If planted in grass­land avoid mow­ing the area un­til June, when the fo­liage starts to fade. Slugs and snail can dam­age the blooms, so take pre­cau­tions. l Our na­tive au­tumn cro­cus, C. au­tum­nale, has long been cul­ti­vated in Bri­tish gar­dens. The other 150 species come from the Mediter­ranean, Asia, In­dia and even South Africa, from which around 30 are more eas­ily grown,

with about 10 re­li­able va­ri­eties prov­ing re­ally pop­u­lar.

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