Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Summer Bulbs

by Michael MacCaskey


As a third-generation native of southern California, my gardening roots are deep in the mild-climate West. There, as elsewhere, most garden action occurs in spring. Invariably, come July and August, someone would ask which bulbs to plant for color and interest during those otherwise dry and hot months. I might have suggested tuberous begonias or dahlias -- summer stalwarts of gardeners everywhere. Or, in that climate, I might have just as well recommended tiger flower or rain lily, tender and lovely plants that thrive in zones 9 and 10 with little fuss.

But now that I'm in the Northeast, I've realized why not grow these "exotics" here too? If we northerners are willing to dig our glads and cannas and store them in the basement or garage, why not do the same with Acidanthera, Bletilla and Galtonia? There are so many wonderful but tender bulblike plants to brighten our gardens when the earth is baking and the rains retreat. Don't think of this kind of gardening as difficult -- it's no more work than planting annuals. The true lilies are an exception. They are hardy, so can be planted in fall as well.

Planting

Exactly when bulbs will appear in your local nursery depends upon your climate. All of the following are available from mail-order suppliers in January or February, and most through March and April. Plant large bulbs in a hole twice as deep as the bulb is thick. In other words, if the bulb is two inches thick top to bottom, plant it in a four-inch-deep hole. The same holds true for smaller bulbs, but it's okay to set them a bit deeper.

You'll see terms such as "corm," "tuber" and "rhizome." Although botanically distinct, all are handled in much the same way.

If gophers, squirrels or other animal pests are common in your area, planting tasty bulbs, such as lilies, in open soil is a waste of time. Protect them by planting inside a hardware-cloth basket.

Grow frost-sensitive bulbs in cold climates by planting the bulbs in large pots. Bury the pots into garden soil once it thaws and frosts are past. Lift them out again in fall before freezes.

Here are nineteen different bulbs to grow for summer blooms.

Acidanthera (Acidanthera bicolor)

Acidanthera (<i>Acidanthera bicolor</i>)
Acidanthera

Consider fragrant and creamy white Acidanthera a more relaxed, more romantic gladiolus. (In fact, you might find this plant listed as Gladiolus callianthus.) Plant corms 3- to 4-inches deep, 6-inches apart in spring a week or so before the last frost. They'll grow 2- to 3-feet tall and bloom, depending upon your climate, in August or late September. Flowers are 2- to 3-inches wide, nearly 5-inches long and marked with either brown or purple blotches. They're long lasting as cut flowers. Corms aren't hardy, so you'll need to dig them in fall before soil freezes if you plan to replant.

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