Bulbs aren’t just for fall planting! Many tender (non-hardy) bulbs make fabulous additions to summer gardens. These jewels of summer can provide intoxicating fragrance, colorful foliage, or architectural forms that enhance the warm season garden. They may be popped into “gaps” in your perennial border, to provide a sensational addition for the season, or grown in containers to accent your patio, deck, or porch.
Types of Summer Bulbs
There are summer bulbs for many types of situations, including sun or shade, containers or planting in the garden. One thing most have in common is that they require good drainage, and will need to be lifted and stored in the winter for re-planting the following spring. If you follow these guidelines, they can last for many years and even multiply. Or, if you prefer, you can treat them as annuals and re-plant each spring.
These plants are typically sold in bags in late winter, and some may be started indoors for a jump on the season. Others may be planted directly in the ground when temperatures allow, usually beginning Memorial Day weekend. They can be corms, tubers, bulbs, or rhizomes, which are just different names for the types of underground storage structures these plants develop.
Here are a few examples of our favorite summer bulbs:
Achimenes, Star of India
Related to African Violets, these bulbs enjoy similar conditions – warm temperatures and bright, indirect light. Most commonly grown in hanging baskets; they cover themselves with bright flowers in different shades of red, purple, blue or pink over dark green foliage.
Acidanthera, Abyssinian Gladiolus
These star-shaped flowers curve downwards and provide a delightfully sweet scent. They are related to gladiolus and make great cut flowers, and are deer resistant. Plant in full sun.
Agapanthus, Lily of the Nile
This plant has strap-like green leaves from which emerge a tall stem with a parasol of blue-purple or white flowers with no fragrance. The flowers can last for many weeks. Best planted in a container and overwintered as a houseplant in cool conditions. Attractive to hummingbirds.
Tuberous begonias come in a wide variety of colors and forms. The popular “Non-stop” series has ruffled leaves and multi-petalled flowers in bright colors. Other flower forms include picotee or rose-form, and some are fragrant. Tuberous begonias can be trailing and ideal for hanging baskets, while others are upright and may be planted in beds. Their corms are best started indoors in March, either under grow lights or a bright windowsill, and transplanted after danger of frost. They are best grown in rich soil and part-shade.
Caladiums are tropical foliage plants, and their leaves come in an incredible array of showy pink, white, and green, ideal for brightening a shady spot as they dislike hot sun. They may be grown in beds and borders, or pots, and make great companions for other shade-loving tropical plants such as impatiens and begonias. Their tubers will multiply over the years.
These stately plants can grow up to 6 feet, although dwarf forms are available, and their exotic foliage, sometimes multi-colored, is topped with yellow, red, or pink flowers in summer. Vigorous growers, they prefer sun, rich soil, and plenty of moisture.
Colocasia, Elephant Ears
Another tuber that is grown for its foliage, but Elephant Ears need room, as they can be 4-6 feet tall with leaves 3-4’ across! They will not tolerate cold soil, so either start in a large pot indoors, or wait to plant until soil temperatures are above 60F. Their dramatic tropical foliage is best in a sunny or semi-shaded spot out of strong winds. Also known as Taro Root, the tuber is a source of food in Polynesian cultures.
Entire books have been written about Dahlias, which produce showy flowers in a huge variety of forms and colors all summer. They all require deeply-worked, rich soil, or may be grown in containers, in full sun. They will need watering and fertilizing, but they can provide award-winning flowers for the effort. Protect from deer/rabbits, though these animals seem less interested in the darker-leaved varieties.
Eucomis, Pineapple Lily
This under-used flowing bulb is easy to grow, and produces a most unusual flower spike that resembles a pineapple fruit. In a protected spot it may even overwinter in our area, although it is generally recommended to lift the bulb in fall. Sun or part-sun, also happy in a container.
Few flowers are as much appreciated for their intoxicating fragrance as Freesias. Sprays of flowers come in various shades of yellow, purple, or white. Best grown in containers, the key to successful growth is to keep the soil cool – thus the top in full sun, but the pot itself in shade. The wiry flower stalks may need staking, but the scent alone is well worth the effort.
Gladiolus, Sword Lily
It is perhaps unfortunate that this flower has come to be known by its common use in funeral flower arrangements, because it is anything but morbid! Tall, dramatic stalks of flowers in a seemingly unlimited range of colors may be had throughout the summer by planting the corms every two weeks after danger of frost. Best grown in groupings, as opposed to rows; the top-heavy stems may need staking, although newer, dwarf forms are care-free and also ideal in pots.
Gloriosa, Gloriosa Lily
If you want something different in your garden, and you have a trellis or something for this plant to climb, then try Gloriosa Lily. These twining vines will quickly scamper up a support in the warm days of summer, and produce unusual, lily-like scarlet flowers with highly re-curved petals.
Oxalis, Iron Cross or Good Luck Plant
These plants produce familiar shamrock leaves with interesting markings, and also pink or white flowers that keep blooming all summer. Prefers partial shade but will tolerate full sun in our area.
Scadoxus, Blood Lily
Another choice for the seeker of the unusual, this South African native produces a glowing red globe of spider-like flowers on a tall stem above wide green leaves. Not bothered by rodents.
Known for its sweet perfume, this bulb produces a tall stalk of single flowers in shades of yellow, white, or mauve, or the variety “The Pearl” has pure white, double flowers. Be sure to tuck this one in where you can appreciate its fragrance. Full sun.
Zantedeschia, Calla Lily
Another plant native to South Africa, the exotic flowers of Calla Lily have long captured the attention of artists like Georgia O’Keeffe. Now available in a range of colors, these elegant plants will lend a tropical air to beds and containers. Also ideal for cutting. Sun/part-shade.Fullscreen Mode