Season extenders: colchicums bring color to the fall garden

by Caroline Brown

Fall is the 2nd best season in New England (after summer). It’s warmer than spring and the vegetation is lush. The trees look a little tired as they lose their chlorophyll, but at least their death throes are beautiful, especially oaks and some maples.

If fall leaves aren’t colorful enough for you and you’re tired, tired, tired of ubiquitous mums (snore), plant colchicum (Colchicaceae) to brighten your fall garden.

Colchicum are also known as autumn crocus because of their resemblence to that spring-blooming species. However, they’re not in the crocus family; they’re actually in the lily family and are very different from crocus. Other common names for colchicum include naked ladies and mountain saffron.

Colchicum do look like spring crocus, but they bloom in September and October. Their leaves, however, appear in the spring, but they disappear in the fall, leaving the blooms to appear on the leaf-less stalks. Colchicums can be found in white, lavender, and a variety of shades of pink.

When you buy a colchicum, you get a corm, which is a bulb-y, tuber-y kind of thing. You can buy colchicum through most reputable bulb dealers.

Beloved by gardeners because they bloom almost as soon as you plant them–within 3-4 weeks–colchicum are usually planted in August. (You’re probably thinking, well doofus, why didn’t you post about it in August, but well….) Anyway, boom, a month later, there they are, just in time to take the place of all your dying perennials and annuals.

All parts of the colchicum are poisonous when eating, so be careful where you plant them if you have plant-eating animals or children.

I’ll write about another season-extender tomorrow–witch hazel, so stay tuned. And enjoy your fall.

Photo 1 courtesy of UW-Madison Botanical Garden. Photo 2 courtesy of Wayside Gardens.


7 Comments to “Season extenders: colchicums bring color to the fall garden”

  1. These are beautiful!! I will have to see if they are suited to my area…I would love a couple of these in my outdoor planters.

  2. Okay, two questions: 1) Will these grow in NC Zone 7? and 2) If the herd of deer living in my neighborhood nibble on them, will they die??? I’ve never heard of these before and they’re just beautiful. And such a nice change from the mums you see EVERYWHERE.

  3. Oh, I meant will the DEER die, not the plants. 🙂

  4. Hey Michelle & Kim. I should have said the hardiness zone, they are hardy in zones 5-9. You’re OK Kim, I think you’re Zone 7 right? Michelle I’m not sure about your zone.

    As for deer, colchicums are deer resistant, guess the little guys figure out really quick if something is poison or not!

  5. Wow, these are beautiful, love the color!

    I saw an interesting news report about trees losing their leaves in Autumn. Explained the actual process. I was under the assumption that the leaves just dried up and fell off. Apparently there’s a lot more to it, than most people think. Fascinating to watch this demo/report.

  6. Right on! Thanks for sharing – I’ve seen these, but never had a name to put to the face.

    Mmm, and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about witch hazel. I was this ” close to buying a witch hazel for my garden last weekend… I may have to return for it! 🙂

  7. Love the colchicums. Try the double ones–they look like waterlilies!

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