Babiana ( Baboon Flower) Bulbs

Started by Kelly Haberer, April 30, 2024, 11:52:05 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Kelly Haberer

I am a new Pacific Bulb Society member and am seeking guidance regarding planting
Babiana bulbs. I ordered them several months ago from Breck's and they arrived 4/30/24, much later than I expected. I live in Berkeley, CA and Babianas in the neighborhood have long-since bloomed. Am I correct that I should not plant the bulbs now? If so, what is the best way to store them? Thanks in advance,
Kelly Haberer


Hello Kelly,

Your question is not easy to answer. First of all it is strange that you received a winter growing bulb at this time of the year. I do not know Brecks. Here in Europe the Dutch bulb companies sell winter growing bulbs like Freesia, Ixia, Lachenalia and Babiana in spring which I never understood and which does only work if you live in a climate with a very cool summer (about as cool as a Mediterranean winter, I think that a Berkeley summer is warmer than that, right?) As soon as summer weather warms up the bulbs will go dormant. Before I knew better I used to order those bulbs and always failed. Have you contacted the seller and discussed the matter? Maybe you can get a refund and return the bulbs. I don't think they would survive a dry storage until the autumn. Do the bulbs show any sign of sprouting? Are they firm to the touch? If you want to keep them and try your luck you could plant them in the coolest part of your garden in the shade. If they sprout, keep them evenly moist and don't allow them to get dry as long as the leaves are green. Once the leaves go brown stop watering. This way your bulbs may make some growth and produce new bulbs. Babiana replace the old bulb each year with a new one and for that they need the green leaves. As they will have grown out of season the new bulb forming this way will be much smaller than usual. But you may still have something to grow on. If this works I recommend digging up the bulbs once they will be dormant and then plant them in an appropriate place in full sun. Babiana does not thrive in shade. The only reason why I recommend to do the emergency planting in shade is that they will remain green for longer in shade. The longer you would manage to keep them green the better the newly formed bulbs will be.
It is a bit like buying bulbs from the southern hemisphere which have the opposite seasons and do a hemisphere swap. It can fail and needs some experience. A local seller should supply bulbs at the correct season, though.
Hope that helps, happy to answer more questions 
Algarve, Portugal
350m elevation, frost free
Mediterranean Climate

David Pilling

I've no special knowledge of babiana... but in general bulbs are better in the ground. Often even when there is no top growth they are busy growing roots.

Sometimes we dig up bulbs and store them, but it is when they're non-hardy (dahlias in Winter) or in the way (narcissus in Summer).

My learned colleague mentions Freesia - special case, they're often heat treated so that they will act as Summer flowering bulbs (in the chilly UK).


Can someone change the title of this topic to "Babiana" so it will be properly searchable? Thanks.


In cool foggy San Francisco, I've had decent success with Babiana, Sparaxis, and Ixia when purchased/delivered in late spring. Mind you I am heat zone 2 and hardiness zone 10a. Berkeley can, of course, be quite a bit warmer.

Anyway, I plant them fairly deep in larger pots, and set the pots in the ground...this keeps the soil relatively cooler, while the tops can enjoy bright sunlight...a light colored top dressing might help. I plant them immediately on arrival. In my conditions they sprout quickly, flower, and eventually go dormant. I lift them and store them warm and then plant them with the rest of the winter bulbs in the fall. The grow on a normal winter cycle thereafter.

Sparaxis tends to run quickly through the cycle, Babiana grows more or less normally well into the summer before going dormant (Mark Twain's quote about the coldest winter was a summer in SF). Ixia, at least the commercial varieties will grow entirely out of season, blooming and growing leaves ignoring the date! For me, I get good bulb increase and copious bulblets from cool summer growing of Ixias. Your results will likely vary if you don't have summer nights averaging 60F or below.

Very few of the big USA bulb importers/sellers ship winter growing bulbs appropriately, shipping late in the fall, or even in the spring. Heck, they mostly don't even ship fall blooming crocus or colchicum appropriately. The few specialist mediterranean bulb sellers ship appropriately, but they generally don't carry the cheap commonly available garden hybrids. One of the better ways of getting them is haunting the local garden centers/nurseries and snatching up the mediterranean bulbs early (usually well before retail mail order ships). And, of course, as a member of PBS, the summer Bulb Exchanges lean heavily towards winter growers.

in cool San Francisco, where the great dormancy race is beginning


Babianas go dormant late spring, so delivery seems right.

All bulbs are best in soil or compost.
In a pot, fill to around 20-40cm of the top with gritty compost, settle the bulbs a few mm into this, top the pot up with grit.
Leave until September before giving them their first water.