Spring bulb flowers like tulips, daffodils and crocuses seem to steal all the limelight when it comes to bulbs, probably because their glorious appearance is such a welcome herald of warm weather and color after the cold climate and winter starkness.
Now that spring is in full throttle, it is time to consider planting summer bulbs that add their own unique beauty and drama to gardens in the summer. Let’s shine a bit of the spotlight on these more tender but equally amazing summer bulb flowers and foliage.
Casting Call: Spectacular Summer Color
Bulb flowers are just like Hans Christian Anderson’s Ugly Duckling. They start out as dreadful-looking, potato-like gray knobs that emerge to become some of the most beautiful, graceful stars of a garden “theater.” Make a scene with the huge blooms and bursts of almost every color in the rainbow offered by summer bulb flowers. Some of these beauties to audition for your “cast of characters” include:
Dahlias – These flowers receive top billing in my book. Their blooms are magnificent and varied; some look like luxurious carnations while others are more pointy and delicate. They come in many rich colors except blue: mixed, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow. Best of all, they grow in many sizes, ranging from petite pom-pom varieties to huge dinner plate-size blooms.
Gladiolas – The name “gladiolus” means “little sword” for its sword-like leaves, and these color-filled stalks provide tall lines of color in your landscape. They also come in almost every color except blue. With more than 100 varieties, you can find them in all sizes, from miniatures (flowers 2 ½”) to giants (flowers 5 ½”). They make terrific cut flowers.
Cannas – The giant leaves of the canna flower are as beautiful as the blooms. The leaf foliage grows in green, bronze or purple. The Greek word “canna” means “reed” and describes the stem rising up out of the center of the foliage and bearing the large, ruffled flowers, which are most commonly seen in deep red but can also grow in pink, orange, yellow or white.
Crocosmia – Also known by its common name, Montbretia, this summer plant grows sprays of grass-like stems with small dabbles of orange or red impressionist painter-like flowers atop. The plant grows so vigorously in all conditions it is considered a weed to some.
Tuberous Begonias – This glamorous bulb is one of the few summer bulbs that grow well in shade. It produces rose-like flowers in many colors (white, pink, rose, red, orange or yellow) and sizes (from 3” to the size of a salad plate). These begonias offer a variety of flower types, from single and double flowered to frilly or plain petals.
Foliage – There are also some beautiful foliage options to include such as elephant ears and caladium. These two large-leafed plants in particular offer amazing texture and color options.
Setting the Stage: Selecting and Planting Summer Bulbs
Growing bulbs is relatively easy. Each type of flower has different planting and care needs so be sure to read the packaging and follow instructions for each type of bulb you purchase.
Bulb Selection – Select bulbs that are firm to touch and show no signs of mold or damage. The bigger the bulb, the bigger the bloom. You also want bulbs that are as fresh as possible.
When to Plant – Timing depends on your climate zone. Mild climates can plant bulbs in early spring while colder zones require planting in late spring or early summer.
Where to Plant – Generally speaking, summer bulb flowers love warm soil and lots of sun, though there are some exceptions (like tuberous begonias, for example). Be sure to note the particular needs of the flower you select.
Prepare the Soil – Different bulbs have different soil requirements, so check the instructions. Bulbs are prone to rotting so well-drained soil is important; amending your soil with organic matter can improve drainage. Use your Garden Weasel to cultivate the soil so it is loose and inviting to your bulbs. This is important for the roots to spread and get well established.
How to Plant –You can plant individual bulbs in their own holes, or create a trench for several bulbs. It is nice to plant bulb flowers in groups. Ideally, dig the hole larger than what you need and fill with loose dirt. The size of the bulb tells you how deep to plant the bulb: it should be two to three times the diameter of the bulb. Place the bulb in the hole, making sure the roots are facing downward and the growing point faces up. Cover with dirt, then pat it down. Bulbs have their own food supply but to maximize performance you can add high-phosphorus bulb food under the roots, and later when the plant starts to grow, fertilize with all-purpose fertilizer. There are special planting tips for each type of flower so do consult the instructions on this, too.
Take a Bow
When mid-summer comes and your gorgeous flowers grace the garden, bring some friends over for the colorful flower show – and enjoy the applause they’re sure to receive!