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Gardening 101: Crocosmia

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Gardening 101: Crocosmia

September 13, 2017

Crocosmia, Montbretia: “Falling Stars”

In the world of bird watching, there are many beloved species that quicken the heartbeat of those of us who are binocular-and camera-toting enthusiasts.  One of the most universally yearned for is the hummingbird, those tiny, darting, jewel-colored little creatures that love to feast on the nectar of exotic flowers.  I have tramped up hillsides in the mountains of Costa Rica in ankle-deep mud, paid $5 to entrepreneurial homeowners in Arizona to gain entry to their “viewing stations” (some folding chairs and feeders set up in their backyards), and bought tchotchkes to get inside a gift shop with a feeder in a picture window in Texas just to see the adorable little hummers sipping sugar water.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a plant that could save me the trouble of  all that tramping and searching.  That plant is the beautiful crocosmia, capable of bringing hummingbirds (and bees and butterflies) right into Brooklyn, to my own backyard.  The thing about this brilliantly colored perennial, with its slender, arching foliage and delicate little flowers carried in a row along a horizontal stem, is that it looks for all the world like something that would only grow deep in a tropical rain forest. A native of South Africa, where it is found mainly in the eastern, wet-summer regions, this plant can miraculously survive the winter climate of USDA growing zone 6, and even zone 5 in a protected spot with a generous layer of mulch.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

 Like its relative gladiolus, crocosmia grows from a bulb-like underground stem called a &#8
Above: Like its relative gladiolus, crocosmia grows from a bulb-like underground stem called a “corm,” a storage organ that holds food for roots as well as the leaves and flowers which appear above ground.

Unlike many plants grown from bulbs, which need to be planted in the fall for spring bloom, the best time to plant crocosmia is in the spring because it flowers in late summer and fall.  In cold weather climates, you should delay planting until all danger of frost has passed and be sure to place the corms in the soil pointed side up, 2 to 3 inches deep.

Cheat Sheet

  • Deadheading will produce more blooms during flowering season. But leave the seed heads in place in fall to feed the birds.
  • Feel free to cut flowers for long-lasting indoor floral displays.
  • Plant in clumps of from 12 to 24 corms in sunny borders or containers with other brightly colored flowers such as sneezeweed (Heleniums), red hot pokers (Kniphofias), cannas or dahlias.
  • Or make them pop with more subdued companions such as the silver leafed foliage of dusty miller or licorice plant, the blues or purples of salvia or the less showy palettes of grasses.

crocosmia columbus by Britt Willoughby Dyer

Keep It Alive

  • Use crocosmia as a perennial in USDA zones 5 to 9.  In colder climates you will need to lift the corms in the fall and store in a dry location over the winter.
  • Crocosmia loves full sun but can tolerate some partial shade in the afternoon in very hot climates.
  • To ensure continued vigor divide the clumps of corms every 3 to 4 years in late fall.
  • Crocosmia needs to be watered generously when first planted, but will be drought tolerant once it is established.
 The palette of crocosmia can be hot, hot, hot with an abundance of varieties in various shades of fiery red, bright orange and clear yellow.
Above: The palette of crocosmia can be hot, hot, hot with an abundance of varieties in various shades of fiery red, bright orange and clear yellow.

Perhaps the most well-known of the many cultivars is “Lucifer;” large (up to 3 feet high) and brilliantly red, a reliable and vigorous bloomer which can add a spectacular element to any garden for 5 to 8 weeks in mid to late summer.  The orange varieties of crocosmia are somewhat less common but equally dramatic. Some well-known ones are “Emily McKenzie” and Crocosmia x cocosmiflora, which is the orange version of Lucifer.

 Grow yellow varieties such as &#8
Above: Grow yellow varieties such as “Golden Fleece,” “Lady Hamilton” and “Solfatare.”

Which ever cultivar you choose you will add a dramatic splash of intense color to your garden and you will get to watch the hummingbirds in the comfort of your very own green space.

N.B.: See more of our favorite hummingbird magnets, including:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for crocosmia with our Crocosmia: A Field Guide.

Interested in other bulbs and tubers for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various bulbs and tubers with our Bulbs & Tubers: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.

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