Bright and colorful the freesia is a fragrant flower that is a delight in any garden. Producing trumpet shaped, upward facing blooms on leafless stems these unusual flowers are ideal for cut displays. Their sweet-spicy flowers also add interest and fragrance to mixed flower beds and containers. Looking their best in mass plantings the bulbs are also easy to force if you want to grow them inside on a sunny windowsill.
Elegant and fragrant, the freesia is an attractive addition to the ornamental flower garden.
Be warned, in areas colder than USDA Zone 9 these plants are unlikely to survive the winter. To keep them you will need to dig the corms up at the end of the growing season and store overwinter before planting out next spring. It is not as difficult as it sounds and I will explain exactly how to do this later in the article. Or you can buy new corms each year.
Different Freesia Varieties
Originating in South Africa the freesia grows from corms or bulbs. These can be purchased prepared, meaning that the corm has been specially heat treated to ensure flowering in the first year. This heat treatment mimics the warm conditions in their native environment South Africa.
Garden stores and plant nurseries sell a wide range of prepared freesia corms.
For a simple block of color Single Blue is a popular choice. You will also find varieties that produce flowers in other colors. Single Red, Single Yellow and Single Pink are all popular choices. There are also numerous patterned varieties available.
Popular freesia varieties include:
- Golden Passion
- Double Yellow
- Double Blue
- Royal Blue
There are a large number of different freesia varieties available. Take the time to find a variety, or varieties, that truly suit your planting scheme.
When selecting corms, try to select the healthiest corms possible. These are often easier to care for and far more likely to flower.
If you are ordering from an online supplier, corms are usually shipped when they are ready for planting.
Planting a Freesia Corm
Plant the corms in a full sun position in well draining soil. A position that enjoys a little shade in the morning is perfect. The freesia also thrives in raised beds. A neutral or slightly alkaline soil is ideal but these resilient plants happily grow in most conditions as long as it is well draining.
In USDA Zones 9 and warmer plant the corms in the fall. In cooler areas plant in the spring.. Plants growing undercover in pots can be planted from January to March.
Before planting, prepare the bed by digging the soil over to a depth of 8 inches. Work in lots or organic matter such as compost to enrich the soil.
Plant the corms, or bulbs, pointy end up about 2 inches deep. Space the corms 2 to 4 inches apart. Cover the corms and water well.
Flowers emerge 10 to 12 weeks after planting the corms. Planting in weekly intervals helps to extend the flowering season.
Planting in Pots
You can either plant a number of bulbs, spaced 2 inches apart, in a large pot or plant individual corms in smaller pots. Plant as described above in pots filled with well draining potting soil. Holes at the bottom of the pot helps excess water to drain away. To further improve drainage, add a layer of grit or pebbles to the bottom.
Water well and place pots in a cool position, the temperature should average around 41 ℉. Shoots should emerge in 3 to 4 weeks. When shoots emerge, move the pot to a warm, sunny spot.
If you are growing indoors be careful not to place the plants in an overly warm position. The temperature around the pots should average no more than 60 ℉. Too much heat can cause plants to become leggy or spindly. Flowers also tend to fade more quickly in warm positions.
How to Care for Freesia Flowers
Once planted the freesia requires minimal care. As the plants grow they may require some form of support to prevent them from falling over. This is particularly necessary if you are growing in a windy position. To support, tie the plants loosely to a trellis or a bamboo stake.
Keep the soil around your plants clear and weed free. This helps your flowers to thrive.
Watering your Plant
After planting, water only to keep the soil evenly moist. Once the flowers begin to fade reduce watering and allow the soil to dry out. Resume watering the following year when foliage begins to emerge.
When watering, try to keep the foliage as dry as possible. Water only the soil. This helps to keep the plant healthy and blemish free. A watering can offers more control than the spray from a garden hose.
Be careful not to overwater your plants. This can lead to issues such as root or bulb rot. If you are growing the bulbs as houseplants, it can be difficult to know how often to water them. If you are uncertain, this is a really useful guide.
Fertilizing Freesia Bulbs
Apply a good bulb fertilizer in the spring. Alternatively, liquid fertilizers that are rich in potash can be applied every 10 to 14 days. Begin applying the fertilizer as soon as flower buds start to form.
An application of high potassium or bone meal fertilizer can be given every spring once foliage emerges. This can be repeated once every two months during the growing season. The size of the dose varies depending on the product you are using. Consult the fertilizer packet for precise information before applying.
Pruning and Deadheading
Spent flowers can be picked or cut from the plant with a small garden scissors.
Allow the foliage to fade and die back naturally before cutting it away from the plant. This may be unsightly but it is necessary if you want the plants to flower again next year. After flowering the foliage continues to be active, harvesting energy from the sun that is stored in the freesia bulb. The energy the bulb stores this year is vital for producing new growth and flowers next year. Cutting away the foliage before it has turned yellow and faded means that the bulb may not have enough energy stored to flower next year.
Overwintering your Corms
In cooler climates you will need to overwinter the corms. In the fall, cut away the faded flowers and reduce watering. Don’t cut away the foliage. Instead allow it to naturally yellow and die back.
Once the growth has died back, dig up the bulbs. Dig deeply, to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, all around the plant. Try not to dig too close to the bulb. Digging a larger circle around the bulb helps to prevent accidental damage. Once you have dug all around the corm, use your shovel to lift the soil and the plant.
After lifting, cut away the remaining foliage and gently dust or shake off any loose soil. Allow the bulbs to dry out in a warm, sheltered position. The temperature should average 60 to 70 ℉. Known as curing, this process imitates the summer conditions in the corms native South Africa. Curing takes about 3 to 4 weeks.
Remove any small corms, known as cormels, which are forming on the large corm. This is also the ideal time to remove the old corm, located at the bottom of the main corm. Use your hands to separate the corms.
The old corm, as well as any damaged or diseased cormels can be discarded. Healthy corms can be dusted with a freesia specific insecticide and fungicide mix before storing in a paper bag. Place the corms in a cool, dry location such as a garage for the winter before replanting, as described above, in the spring.
You can also transplant the corms into pots for the winter. Store freesia plants growing in pots in a dark position at 50 to 60 ℉.
Post Flower Care for Freesias Growing in Pots
Following flowering, cease watering and allow the soil to dry out. When around two-thirds of the foliage has died back, move the pot to a cool, dark location. If you have planted in larger pots, or simply struggle to move heavy flower pots, try placing them on a plant caddy such as the Amagabeli Metal Plant Caddy. This makes moving heavy pots around your garden an easy task. Moving the pots to a darker position, encourages them to enter a dormant period. During this time keep the soil dry.
The following spring or when you are ready to enjoy the flowers again, remove the pot from its dark position and return it to its usual, light spot. If you remove the plant from dormancy in early winter, it should flower in the summer. Removing the plant from its position in the fall encourages flowers to emerge in the spring.
As flowering finishes move the plant to a colder, darker position. This encourages the corm to enter a dormant period before reflowering next year.
Propagating Freesia Flowers
While you can propagate freesia plants, you will enjoy more success from purchasing prepared bulbs. It is also a lot quicker.
When lifting corms in the fall you will notice small cormels or offsets attached to the larger corm. These can be removed from the original corm and planted in small pots the following spring. With a little care they can slowly grow into productive freesia flowers. However, this process can take a few years because freesia corms need to develop and mature before flowering.
Growing from Seed
Like harvesting corms it can take a few of years for freesia’s grown from seed to begin flowering.
Allow spent flowers to go to seed. As the flowers fade, seedpods form. The pods should be allowed to mature and dry out before you cut them from the plant. Dry pods start to develop vertical striations or ridges. When these appear the pods can be harvested. Harvesting before the striations appear means that the seeds are immature and unlikely to germinate.
Dry the pods in an open paper bag for a few days before opening. Allowing the bag to remain open encourages air to circulate, helping the pods to dry. Separate the seeds from the pod and any debris before storing in a labeled paper envelope until you are ready to use.
Soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before sowing. This helps to soften the shell, speeding up germination time. Fill seed trays with either a light potting soil mix or an even mixture of sand and compost. Moisten the potting medium before sowing the seeds as thinly as possible. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of the potting medium and cover.
Place the seed tray in a warm position or on a heat mat. The VIVOSUN Seedling Heat Map is particularly useful because it comes with a digital thermometer. This makes controlling and maintaining the temperature around your delicate seedlings an easy task. For germination to be successful, the temperature should average 55 to 65 ℉.
Remove the tray cover every day to release excess moisture. This helps to prevent damping off. Keep the potting medium moist. Germination usually takes about 1 month, but can take longer.
Allow the seedlings to grow on until they develop two true sets of leaves. They can then be transplanted into individual pots filled with well draining potting soil. Harden off the seedlings when temperatures are warm enough before planting out.
Common Freesia Problems
One of the problems most commonly encountered by freesia growers is a failure by the plant to flower. This can be caused by a number of different factors. Firstly it may be because the plants are too warm. To flourish, the freesia needs nighttime temperatures to be around 40 to 55 ℉ and daytime averages of between 50 and 70 ℉. Consistent exposure to temperatures warmer than this can deter flowering. Another reason for the plants failure to flower in extreme or constant heat is that they need a spell of cold weather to break their dormancy.
Planted in a favorable position these plants will flower abundantly.
Foliage appearing without flowers may mean that an established plant needs to be divided. Lift the corm and divide it into smaller, healthy sections. You can use your hands to separate the corms. Discard any unhealthy or discolored examples and plant the remaining corms at a depth of about 2 to 3 times their length. Don’t plant the corms too deeply, this can also prevent flowering.
A lack of nutrients in the soil is another common cause for freesia’s failing to flower. A soil test kit can tell you if your soil is lacking in nutrients. If this is the case, slightly increase the amount of fertilizer that you give to the plants.
Cutting away foliage too soon, before it is yellow, can also hamper flowering and growth. Once flowering has finished the foliage gathers solar energy that is stored in the corms. This bolsters growth and flowering the following year. Cutting away the foliage before it yellows can lead to a nutrient deficiency in the corms.
Problems Caused by Over Watering
After flowering has finished, foliage turning yellow is perfectly natural. Yellowing foliage at any other time of year can be a sign of waterlogged soil. This can cause corms to rot. Don’t allow pots to sit in water for too long.
Bacterial soft rot causes spots to form on the foliage. Small at first these spots soon develop into larger, dark, dry spots. In mild cases reduce moisture levels around the plant to prevent the disease from developing further. Badly affected specimens must be dug up and destroyed to prevent the issue from spreading to other plants.
Over fertilized and watered plants can fall victim to the incurable fusarium wilt. A nasty fungal pathogen, improve drainage and solarize the soil before replanting anything in the affected position.
Finally, Iris leaf spot can cause yellow-green, water soaked lesions to form. Cut away affected foliage and improve drainage to prevent the issue from developing.
Pests such as red spider mite and aphids can also affect the plants. Raising humidity levels around the plants can help to deter red spider mites. Aphid infestations are easily treated with an application of insecticidal soap.
If you are growing outside be warned, slugs and snails can also target the foliage. Wrapping copper tape around pots is a great, organic way to deter the pests.
Using Freesias in Flower Displays
If you want to use your flowers for a cut flower display, cut the stems in early morning before the temperatures have warmed up and flowers have started to dry out.
After cutting your flowers, hold the stems under water and make a second cut, this time at a slight angle about an inch above the initial incision. Place the stems in a vase filled with fresh water and add a floral preservative. If you aren’t using floral preservatives you will need to change the water in the vase every day.
For a cut flower garden, freesias can be planted alongside dahlias, ladys mantle, cosmos, amaranth and gladiolas. They are also ideal plants for mixed flower beds and look particularly effective if planted alongside anemones and lily of the valley.
Freesias work well mixed with other flowers in a cut flower garden.
Drought tolerant and largely pest resistant the elegant freesia is an attractive, low maintenance addition to any garden. Ideal for a range of planting schemes the fragrant flowers of the freesia are particularly effective in courtyard and cottage garden planting schemes.