2011-05-05 / Features

For The Summer Garden, Add Summer Bulbs

By Carole McCray


McCray McCray Summer is gardening’s time to shine. Perennials and annuals thrive in the season’s heat that make it easy to overlook the role of flowering bulbs in the summer garden. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are the familiar spring bulbs we are accustomed to dominating the spring landscape. But there is another class of bulbs entirely comprised of summer bloomers and include some of the most exotic flowers found in the garden. Spring is the time to plan and plant them.

Oriental lilies, gloriosa and a wide range of dahlias are some of the summer bulbs to add sass and class to your summer garden. According to Sally Ferguson of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center (NFBIC) in Danby, Vt., the bulbs are not hard to grow. She said, “The surprise is that they’re not at all tricky.”

To introduce you to these summer flowers, NFBIC has created a new Summer Bulb Primer on their informational Web site, www.bulb.com. The primer is a photo-filled, information packed resource that profiles the top 10 bulbs for the summer garden that are available from garden retailers as either do-it-yourself bulbs or as “ready-to-go” pre-grown potted bedding plants.


Semi-cactus dahlias potted up for summer Semi-cactus dahlias potted up for summer The primer includes such exotic garden treats as climbing gloriosa vines, tufted tropical-looking pineapple lilies ( Eucomis), tall and short leafy cannas, bountifully blooming begonias, bigleafed elephant ears, oodles of oxalis and caladiums and dahlias of all types and colors. All are suited to garden beds and summer containers.

Most summer bulbs are tender by nature and cannot survive cold winters without protection. Depending on where you garden, summer blooming bulbs can be grown as annuals or perennials—or something in between. In warmer USDA zones, summer bulbs in the garden will readily come back as perennial performers. At season’s end in cooler areas, gardeners can choose to save summer bulbs for growing again in future seasons. Where winter exposure is an issue, lift and store bulbs indoors over winter. Even easier, bulbs grown in containers can be stored “as is” (right in their pots) in a protected area. Just cease watering until it’s time for start-up next season.

Saving bulbs is optional, a benefit not an obligation. Sally Ferguson at NFBIC says, “ Don’t let where you live limit which tender summer bulbs you grow.” “In summer, tender bulbs will grow almost anywhere.” In hotter areas, even cool- loving dahlias can thrive if provided with mulch and afternoon shade. In colder zones, the most outrageous, heat-loving tropical plants fare beautifully if protected from cold at the growing season’s beginning and again at its end.

The time to plant summer bulbs is when it’s time to plant tomatoes. A soil temperature of 60 F or more is the time to plant summer bulbs.

Avoid planting your summer bulbs when nights are cold and there are frost warnings. The cold air and cold soil will prevent growth of the summer bulbs. Remember the summer bulbs like warm weather.

The best tip for buying bulbs is to buy in bulk. Team up with gardening friends, neighbors and relatives and buy in quantity; then divide up the bulbs among yourselves and reduce the prices per bulb. Keep alert to endof season sales at your local garden centers to keep the cost of buying bulbs low .

To get started with summer bulbs, have a quick visit to www.bulb.com’s Summer Bulb Primer, and go one step further and www.bulb.com’sSummer Bulb Glossary. Summer flowering bulbs are just the thing to add an uncommon touch of glamour to an ordinary garden.

Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an award-winning writer; her most recent award was the Garden-Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds that appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@verizon.net.

Photos courtesy of The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center .

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