Freesias are fragrant, herbaceous perennials belonging to the Iridaceae family. Native to South Africa where they blossom in winter when the temperature cools and the rainy season begins. They are beloved by gardeners and florists alike for their vivid, colourful blooms and their longevity as cut flowers which give off their fresh and fruity perfume for up to three weeks.
Freesias have slender green stalks which are densely clustered around the stems and usually crowned with six to twelve funnel-shaped or fluted petals. Freesias are zygomorphic, meaning their flowers emerge from only one side of the stem. They typically reach a mature height of between 12 and 20 inches. Their elegant blooms display a range of colours such as white, yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple, depending on the variety. Often, the brightest coloured varieties have the strongest scent. It’s estimated that there are as many as 1800 different types of Freesia spanning 16 species, each with its own unique colouring.
Learn all about these pretty plants with our ultimate guide to the most popular varieties of Freesia and how to care for them!
How to Grow Freesias
Freesias are best grown from the corm, a bulb-like tuberous structure. To set yourself up for success, choose larger and better-developed corms when purchasing from nurseries or garden centres as they store more energy and will produce much stronger and healthier blooms than smaller corms.
Often, Freesias are sold as ‘prepared‘ corms, which means they have been heat-treated to mimic the South African summer. This process stimulates blooming around 100-120 days after planting. Freesias become dormant in very hot weather, and need cool temperatures to break the dormancy so that they can begin to flower. You can also purchase Freesias as ‘unprepared corms’ with slightly different growing requirements.
Freesia corms can be planted indoors between August and December for late winter and early spring blooms. When planting indoors, ensure the pot has adequate drainage holes and make sure the soil around the corm remains loose, giving it plenty of room to spread its roots. Plant your corms around two inches below the surface, with around three to four inches of soil beneath the corm. Use a well-draining potting mix.
Water regularly but sparingly until new growth appears and place the pot in a warm, bright position for around eight weeks. When the shoots are around two inches tall, transfer the pot to a cooler position to stimulate flowering. Try to avoid very sunny positions, as too much heat and light will cause your pretty flowers to fade.
Planting Outdoors in the Ground
Outdoors, Freesias prefer a warm and sheltered location with plenty of indirect sun. ‘Prepared’ Freesias should be planted outdoors from April to June once the last frost has passed for late summer flowering. ‘Unprepared’ freesia corms should only be planted in late summer and will flower the following spring.
Plant your corms at a depth of around two inches, and space them about two to three inches apart. You can cover the corms with a layer of mulch for added protection. If planting directly into the ground, make sure the soil is well-draining, and add extra drainage material if necessary. Keep the soil lightly moist until the first shoots appear, after which, weekly watering should suffice.
Planting Outdoors in Containers
It’s possible to start corms off slightly earlier in pots than ground corms, provided they are kept under cover until frost has passed. When the weather warms, move the pots to their intended position in the garden. Like indoor Freesias, outdoor potted Freesias will need well-draining, loose soil, and plenty of drainage holes in the pot. Keep the potting soil moist until the first shoots emerge.
Alternatively, you can plant potted corms in a cold frame or greenhouse between August and December for winter blooms the following year, between January and April.
Freesias love fertile, well-draining soil with a pH level that is neutral to mildly alkaline. In the ground, a loamy, stony, or slightly sandy soil is ideal. If grown in pots, use a potting mix of around two parts compost to one part drainage material, such as perlite or horticultural grit.
Freesias love a position where they will receive full to dappled sunlight. Too much sun causes their flowers to fade and wilt, so select a sheltered position where they are protected from the most powerful midday rays. Different varieties will have different light requirements, so check this out when purchasing.
Freesias are temperature-sensitive, and won’t tolerate extreme temperatures. If temperatures consistently exceed 15°C, they can become spindly, and their vibrant colours will begin to fade.
Freesias cannot tolerate frost and need a consistent minimum winter temperature of between 4 and 7°C if they are to return the following year. If you live in a colder climate, it’s best to treat them as annuals and store them indoors over winter
Freesias don’t like very wet soil, particularly when they are young. Seedlings should be watered sparingly but regularly to keep the soil lightly moist. When established, once-weekly watering should be enough to keep them happy. Overwatering causes the blooms and foliage to wilt and the corms to rot.
Continue watering your Freesias regularly until the foliage begins to yellow and fade at the end of the growing season.
After the first buds emerge, feed your young Freesias fortnightly with a well-balanced, high-potash fertiliser. Freesias require less food if the soil is already nutrient-rich.
Because of their top-heavy structure, Freesias usually require extra support to stop them from breaking under the weight of their beautiful blooms. Create supports by using small lengths of garden cane, twigs, or pea sticks secured with twine.
You can remove faded, wilted, or dead flowers during the growing season by snipping them where they meet the stem. Once the stems begin to wilt at the end of the season, prune the flower stalks from the main stems. Don’t be tempted to prune wilting foliage too early though, as they are vital for collecting extra energy to be stored in the corm for the following year.
In warmer climates, Freesia corms can be left in the ground over winter and covered with a generous layer of mulch to protect from lower temperatures. In colder climates, however, you will need to dig up the corms at the end of the growing season, either once the foliage has died back or before the first frost arrives. The corms can be stored for replanting the following year. When the weather drops, potted freesias can be moved to a greenhouse or indoors and placed back outside after the last frost has passed. You might want to repot these corms with fresh soil, as Freesias tend not to like flowering in the same pot twice.
Storing For Replanting
To store corms over winter for replanting, lift the bulbs and cut the stem down to around two inches, before allowing the corm to completely dry out for around three weeks. This drying process is known as ‘curing’. Once dried, target rid of any shrivelled corms, keeping only the healthy, plump bulbs. Store your corms in a cool, dry, dark place. Sandboxes, newspapers, and paper bags are generally good storage mediums.
Growing from seed
In addition to corms, Freesias can also be grown from seed, although this growing method typically takes several years for blooms to emerge. If you are a patient gardener, you can collect your own Freesia seeds from established plants. Seed pods develop after the plant blooms. They should be left on the plant to ripen throughout the growing season. Once the pods begin to dry out in late summer and early autumn, the seeds can be safely collected and stored in a cool dry place until you are ready to plant them.
You should always soak Freesia seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting them to stimulate growth. The seeds should then be sown in trays of compost and kept moist (but not wet). Once the green leaves begin to emerge from the seedlings, you can transplant them to pots and left to acclimatise outdoors when temperatures reach around 15°C. Once acclimatised fully, you can transfer your Freesias to their intended growing position.
Types of Freesia
Now you know all there is to know about caring for Freesias, let’s take a look at 21 of the most popular and most stunning Freesia varieties that you can grow and enjoy!
The Alba is a stunning if somewhat understated ornamental variety, with double-flowering blooms of snow-white to cream-coloured petals. It is one of the tallest Freesia varieties, capable of reaching 18 inches tall, meaning it’s sure to stand out proudly in any garden, but will need to be plenty of additional support!
The Ballerina is prized for its complex and intricate blooms, reminiscent of a rose. Its petals are an ivory colour, and it emits a subtle, yet stunning fragrance.
The Blue Navy Freesia is characterised by deep violet trumpet-shaped petals which fade to a white centre. They are fast bloomers, usually developing buds after around 70 days.
The Bordeaux, as its name suggests, displays rich, wine-coloured single flowering petals with pale yellow centres. This burgundy beauty brings a touch of opulence to bold borders.
The Clementine is a true-orange, double-petalled variety with a very strong scent. Its vivid, deep-coral hue remains absolute throughout the entirety of the petals.
The Duet features ivory, champagne, and yellow-coloured double-flowering blooms. Its intricate petal structure and soft colours give this variety an air of subtle sophistication.
The Figaro is, without doubt, one of the most ostentatious and magnificent varieties. Its deep, fiery red and orange semi-double-flowering petals frame warm yellow centres. Figaro’s dramatic appearance is more than matched by its powerful scent.
The Honeymoon is a delicate, double-flowered Freesia with whiteish petals, outlined with elegant and subtle powder pink perimeters and veins, framing a pale yellow centre.
The Laxa variety is unique amongst Freesias for its star-shaped blooms with six petals. The petals are rich coral-red with deep purple centres. A popular cultivar of Laxa, the Joan Evans possesses snow-white petals in the same star-shaped formation, with three of the petals being adorned with distinctive raspberry-red spots. Laxa and its cultivars are particularly hardy varieties.
The Oberon variety is instantly recognisable for its fiery scarlet and yellow inflorescences and magnificent, powerful perfume. Oberon Freesias will bring more than a hint of drama to your borders.
The Orlando Freesia is a variety with deep orange-hued double-flowering petals. Despite being a relatively new variety, its showy colours and intricate petals have made it a fast favourite amongst Freesia enthusiasts.
The Peachy Queen really lives up to its regal moniker, with elegant and striking double-flowering blooms. Its petals display deep coral, cool salmon, and delicate peachy tones, before fading to yellow and white centres.
The Pink Fountain is another statuesque variety, reaching up to two feet tall! Its graceful dusky-pink double-blossomed petals fade gradually to an off-white centre. The warm hues of this late flowering Freesia will add warmth to the garden as the nights draw in and the temperature drops.
The Purple Rain is an ornate, double-flowering variety that comes in a spectrum of pink and purple hues, ranging from deep fuchsias to bright lilacs, usually with a sunny yellow centre.
The Sandra is truly breathtaking because of the spectrum of colours it displays. The petals fade from deep pink trims to baby pink middles, and warm yellow centres. Its range of colours, coupled with its open and full petal structure are reminiscent of tropical Hibiscus flowers and will bring a splash of exoticism to any garden.
The Santana is a simple yet stunning single-flowered variety, displaying bold, bright yellow blooms. Their sunshine hue is sure to bring cheer to any garden.
The Speedy White is, as its name suggests, a fast-blooming snow-white variety. Its large, showy, single flower contrasts beautifully with its green foliage, and its strong aroma, reminiscent of fresh pears is often used in perfumes.
The Striped Pearl is truly ornate, with its white petals adorned with complex lilac vein-like stripes which deepen to a butter-yellow in the centre. The intricate detail of the petals, reminiscent of Orchid blooms, make the Striped Pearl a true showpiece.
The Striped Sun is another ornate and decorative Freesia. Its deep golden-yellow petals are decorated with delicate red veins, living up to its striped moniker.
The Tahiti is a delicately coloured, single-flowering variety, displaying muted violet hues set against off-white petals and a striking yellow centre. The Tahiti has a strong fragrance and grows best when placed in full sun.
The Troubadour is a bold, bright, double-flowered Freesia variety that features deep, reddish-pink petals which gradually fade through to warm yellow centres.The Virginia Freesia is a pure white double-flowering variety with a strong, fresh scent. Its monochrome blooms are simply stunning, exuding elegance and class in any border or bouquet.
What Do Freesias Symbolise?
With so many diverse and beautiful varieties, Freesias are sure to brighten up your garden the whole year through! But did you know that Freesias are steeped in symbolic meaning as well!
Freesias got their name as a tribute to true friendship. The botanist who first discovered the Freesia flower chose to name it after his companion Friedrich H.T. Freese.
Freesias have long been believed to symbolise friendship, trust, devotion, and loyalty, particularly when given as a gift, a tradition that dates back to Victorian Britain.
What do Different Coloured Freesias Symbolise?
- White – Traditionally, married couples will exchange gifts of pure white Freesias on their seventh wedding anniversary to signify the purity of their love. At weddings and baptisms, white Freesias symbolise the innocence and purity of the bride or the child.
- Red – Red Freesias symbolise passion, lust, and power since red varieties typically give off the strongest scents.
- Yellow – Yellow Freesias, with their cheerful sunny hues, are often thought to symbolise positivity, happiness, and friendship.
- Pink – The colour pink is often associated with love and femininity, and this symbolism applies to delicate and elegant pink Freesias especially!
Are Freesias Annual or Perennial?
Freesias are generally considered to be perennial, especially in the temperate climate of their native South Africa. In the colder climates of the northern hemisphere, however, it’s best to treat Freesias as an annual as they are unlikely to survive harsh winters in the ground.
What do Freesias smell like?
Freesias are famed for their distinctive fragrance. They are often described as having a fresh, sweet, and fruity scent. Often, the brightest coloured varieties produce the strongest aromas. Freesias are often used in cosmetics because of their stunning perfume.
How Long will Cut Freesias Last?
Cut Freesias are prized by florists for their longevity, often lasting up to three weeks in vases and bouquets. You can create your own stunning indoor arrangement by snipping the flowers whilst they are still in bud and placing them in water. Interestingly, yellow and white varieties last the longest!
Freesias truly are some of the most cheerful, diverse, and vibrant flowers! The astounding array of varieties and colours means there is a perfect Freesia out there for every gardener. Now that you know all there is to know about Freesias, why don’t you go ahead and plant some corms of your own.
Following this care guide will make sure that you can continue enjoying your charming Freesia flowers and their sweet fragrance for many years to come, both in your garden and inside your home.