In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
July, 2012
Regional Report

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Phillipine lily loves the heat and blooms like a tall, skinny Easter lily every summer.

Summer Bulbs

Not all flowering bulbs are from Holland or even South Africa, although many of my favorites certainly are. The bulbs of summer hail from places as diverse as Texas and Taiwan. There are bulbs in bloom to enjoy now and others to plant in now for bloom next year. No garden should be without them.

Now in Bloom
Two tall, white lilies whose names are sometimes confused are reliable summer bloomers. Philippine lily, Lilium philippinense, looks like it might be the backwoods cousin of the slick and glossy uptown Easter lily. At 4 feet tall, narrow and sharply upright, it seems the cousin has been pulled like taffy to its summer heights. Similar but larger, tubular flowers are borne in clusters at the top of each stem. The flowers will last about 10 days if you remove the brown pollen pockets inside each bloom. Be careful when planting Philippine lilies in south Florida where they have escaped cultivation.

Formosa lily, L. formosanum, takes its name from the 19th century term for Taiwan and is native to that island. Midwesterners accustomed to lilies that top out at 3 feet tall can be forgiven for thinking we must overfertilize these jewels since they easily reach 7 feet with flowers to match. Clearly a plant for the back of the border, Formosa lily brings cool white and sweet fragrance to the hottest weeks of summer. Buy these beauties as sprouted plants in pots or trade for bulbs at local plant swaps for best results, but do not worry that you will not have enough. Both of the lilies come easily from seed and may have a flower or two in the first summer after spring planting.

The only real pest that troubles either plant is lily mosaic virus, which shows itself as splotched leaves and is usually fatal within a year. Rogue out any plants that show symptoms and control aphids to prevent its spread.

While most crinum lilies bloom in spring, 'Summer Nocturne' puts on a show in summer. Sweetly scented with clusters of light pink flowers, this crinum thrives in partly shady spots but also in full sun where its growth will be more compact.

Plant Bulbs Now
There are some very interesting bulbs to plant in spring and summer that will bloom the following year. From the fields of Texas comes a plant perfect for unimproved soils in many places. Known as the giant prairie lily in the early 20th century nursery trade, Zephyranthes drummondii is a white rain lily with a refreshing hint of fragrance. The plants stay less than a foot tall in sunny or partly shady places as long as the soil is not overly rich or frequently irrigated. They make good companions to the plants that can survive the gravel edge of my driveway, such as four-o'-clock and cleyera.

Golden yellow rain lily is aptly named Z. citrina and has been grown in Gulf Coast gardens since the early 20th century. They are apomictic, which means they do not need pollination to reproduce and build their clump slowly but steadily. A patch of these reliable bulbs popped up after a thunderstorm where the back path spilled into the alley at our place in Gulfport. We enjoyed them each August and like us, they soon disappeared for another year. Plant rain lilies about 3 inches deep and do not despair if they fail to bloom in a very dry summer. They will return in time.

Prepare for Storage
Two of my favorite bulbs can be left in the ground over the winter, but do best when dug up or unpotted and stored for winter. Caladium and dahlia tubers are having their heyday now, one with wildly painted leaves and the other with flowers as big as dinner plates. It should be several months before you need to dig them, but midsummer is a good time to make sure they will be healthy next year, too.

Cut off any flower stalks that form on caladiums to maintain strong leaf growth that will transfer nutrients to the tuber as the seasons change this fall. Keep a close eye on dahlias and address pest problems such as aphids, whitefly, and fungus diseases on leaves or flowers. Prepare a place to store the bulbs now, while there is less to do in the garden than there will be when these plants die back. Collect mesh bags such as onions come in or gather cardboard soft drink flats to use as containers and find a storage place that is cool, dark, and dry. The only other thing you will need is some pine straw, hay, or shredded mulch to pack the tubers in and you will be ready.


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