African Bulbine -Bulbine frutescens
Custom Plant Information By Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist
African Bulbine is native to dry grassy regions of South Africa. It is well-suited for landscaping in the San Antonio area-- like many other well-adapted plants from all over the world. The best landscaping approach for the San Antonio area is to use native Texas plants but also proven, well-adapted plants, such as African Bulbine.
Bulbine makes an attractive and unusual ground cover and also looks good planted in groups. It is more interesting than overused annual color beds and easier to maintain. It has enough foliage interest to keep it looking attractive when not in full bloom. The flowers are unusual and locally available in yellow and orange varieties. Bulbine makes a nice addition to a mixed potted arrangement as well. It is very drought tolerant. It can grow just fine in thin, Hill Country, rocky, native soils, but also appreciates a little soil enhancement. It shows color year round and is most impressive during the earlier part of its bloom cycles. It can be covered with color during mild winters-- which is a real landscaping plus.
Bulbine grows and blooms best during spring to early summer and then resumes active growth and bloom in the fall. It holds its own in the middle of summer and continues to display color, usually showing at least some color, year-round, including winter. During summer rainy weather, and associated cooler temperatures, it revives. African Bulbine's onion like foliage Is evergreen and succulent-like. It grows new leaves from the base. Each individual plant can eventually spread to about three feet round. The plant foliage never gets taller than a foot or so. The flowers spikes extend above the foliage and continue to elongate another six inches or more.
All plants have strengths and weaknesses. In these plant information sheets you will find plants that overcome weaknesses. We are continuing to add worthy plants-- a custom work in progress.
The major weakness of African Bulbine, for landscaping in the San Antonio area, is cold hardiness. In past decades, when enthusiasm for African Bulbine was at its peak, numerous commericial and residential beds were landscaped with Bulbine. During mild winters Bulbine was very attractive. At that time I wondered why this plant was not used more. But when the occasional year of very hard freezes hit, many beds of Bulbine were devastated. Since many landscapers thought of Bulbine as a perennial that would last several years, regardless of winter weather, its use as a perennial in landscape design required re-thinking. It is now best to think of Bulbine as a long-lived annual. You can expect to get at least ten months, and probably more than a few years out of the plant, until the hard freezes hit once again. In the San Antonio area, these hard freezing years, with temperatures approaching 20 degrees, seem to happen about every four years or so. The Texas Hill Country is usually five to ten degrees colder than downtown San Antonio. After the moderate freezes of a "normal" San Antonio" area winter, with low temperatures reaching perhaps 25 degrees, the foliage of Bulbine remains evergreen though the foliage tips may burn and blacken at those temperatures. Bulbine is rated for use in USDA zones 9-11.
Another weakness of Bulbine is the elongating flower spikes. When left untrimmed, they continue to elongate, but do not continue to support full color on the entire bloom extention, as when first in bloom, which is not as attractive.
Bulbine is not deer resistant. Even in a bed with many deer resistant plants, the deer will find Bulbine.
When choosing plants that are good for South Central Texas, winter is not the only consideration. It is also helpful to choose plants that really " love the heat", not just endure it. For example, Esperanza loves the heat and blooms better when the real heat hits. Pride of Barbados is another good example. It is at its peak during the worst part of summer heat and then begins to seed out and bloom less in fall. Bulbine tolerates the heat and drought but prefers temperatures below 94, not typical of that part of a South Central Texas Summer, when temperatures will normally reach above 95 degrees, from mid-July through mid September. A few degrees, whether too hot or cold, can make a difference in optimal plant growth. Many plants are documented to safely endure certain low temperatures (USDA plant hardiness zones) before total plant death. Not as much research informs us about what high temperature range is best for a particular plant. However, Bulbine, at least, visually tolerates the heat quite well, which makes it very useful. Other plants such as Creeping Rosemary fall into this category as well, actually blooming in the winter rather than summer, yet visually tolerating the intense heat of summer.
Elongating flower spikes can be helped by the skillful use of a weed-eater, cutting off the elongated flower spikes just above the foliage, which encourages re-bloom. In fact, the best maintenance approach is to trim the plant, lightly, several times a year, especially when the bloom spikes elongate to the point of being less attractive. You may temporarily sacrifice some color, but the plant will re-bloom quickly within a few weeks and look better than before. However, Bulbine does not always respond well to sever trimming, especially during the hottest time of the year. Severe cutbacks done when the plant is growing best, work better, and are sometimes successful, but not 100% effective, since some lindividual plant loss may occur even then.
It is diffcult to keep Bulbine looking good in nursery pots for more than a growing season without timely cutback, since the foilage drapes over the pot and does not stay compact, since it has no ground support. In time, the lower stems of the plant become thicker, barren of foliage and more visible. Yet even then, the plant will still be covered in flowers. When mixed into potted arrangements, this condition is not as noticeable and the continual color compliments other plants in the pot. At times, Bulbine is attractive to look at from a distance, but up close may show its flaws. Potted problems can be helped by re-potting Bulbine lower, covering the stems just below the foliage, with new soil. This also enables Bulbine to root on the newly covered stems. Ofcourse, this is more diffcult when Bulbine is part of a mixed potted arrangement since other plants may not respond as well to being divided as Bulbine.
African Bulbine Basics
Type: Flowering perennial; almost evergreen.
Sun/Shade: Prefers full blazing sun
Flowers: Yellow or Orange in spring and a repeat bloomer throughout the year. Will bloom during mild winters also.
Container Use: Looks good in a mixed potted planting. Use as an accent plant to bring out the color of other plants.
Size: Up to one foot tall and eventually as wide sending up new shoots from the base. Will reach two feet including flowers.
Deer Resistance: Not Deer-resistant.
Butterflies: Butterflies love it.
Drought Tolerance: Very drought tolerant but looks best with occasional watering.
Soil: Not particular about soil as long as it drains well and does not remain constantly wet. Does well in rocky soil or even better with soil enhancement.
Water: Smart Watering Principle=Gently flood when first planted. A berm of soil and/or mulch is helpful. Allow to dry slightly, without wilting, then water deeply again, etc. After establishment, do not keep constantly wet, but do water when dry.
Fertilizer: Looks even better with regular mild fertilization. Maintenance Tips: Cut off old flower stems occasionally to stimulate new flowers and cut out any portion of the succulent type leaves that show discoloration or damage. Cut off all blackened freeze damage.
Rating: Rates high as a landscape plant.
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