The last planting season of the year is late fall when gardeners are racing to get in all the crocus, daffodil, scilla, snowdrop and tulip bulbs in the ground so they can look forward to an early spring full of color. But fall is not the only bulb planting season. There is a whole array of bulbs that need to be planted in the spring to bloom gloriously and often exotically in the summer.
Many summer blooming bulbs are native to tropical places that have a long hot growing season. Many will be happy in a container, while others are more commonly grown in the ground, but for the most part they are not winter hardy in our climate and cannot overwinter outside.
I have just ordered a Gloriosa ‘Rothschildiana’ from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Sometimes called a climbing lily, this unusual lily will grow to a height of about six feet and its tendrils need some kind of trellis or support to latch on to. The crimson flower itself has strongly reflexed slim petals, curving back from a green center with long graceful ‘eyelash’ pistils and stamens. Some gardeners have described this vining plant as looking as if it is covered with butterflies when it is in bloom mid to late summer.
Rothschildiana can be grown in a container or in well drained soil. It needs full sun, and since it is a tropical plant it is wise to place it where it will not only get bright sunlight, but where heat will collect and it will be protected from wind. The vital thing to remember with any container planting is that it must be kept watered, probably every single day, and they must get regular fertilization, often every other week with a half strength solution.
Crocosmia, also known as montbretia or sword lily grows from corms that are native to South Africa. Lucifer is the variety most seen in our area because it is hardy to zone 5 or minus 10 degrees. However, in zone 5 it should be heavily mulched for the winter. Lucifer is a dramatic plant with its strappy, iris-like foliage, and brilliant scarlet flowers on two to three foot arching stems. They are not only stunning in the garden, they work well as cut flowers and have a long life in a vase. New corms may take two years to bloom, but a large clump is a magnificent sight. It is a plant that gets lots of attention on the Bridge of Flowers.
Crocosmia and the Gloriosa lily are both pest resistant. Rodents will not turn these bulbs and corms into lunch.
I love Oriental lilies with their recurved petals, but all lilies are beautiful. Gaining in popularity are what some are calling pot lilies, compact plants that do well in a container. B&D Lilies offer several of these smaller lilies including After Eight, a fragrant garnet-red lily with white banding that resembles some of the Stargazer lilies. It only grows to about 18 inches tall. B&D recommends at least a gallon potting soil for each bulb and warns that potting soils with fertilizer included must be avoided. Too much nitrogen will not help lilies and can hinder blooming. They also recommend using a rose fertilizer during the growing season, which is to say a fertilizer that has more phosphorous than nitrogen or potassium.
Rodolpha is pure white lily, similar to the magnificent Casa Blanca, but it will only grow to two feet, so it will be happy in a container, or in the front of a garden border.
Lilies love the sun, but they are hardy to zone 4 so they have no trouble coming through our winters. Even here in Heath.
Of course not all bulbs or corms or tubers produce beautiful flowers. Caladiums are big showy foliage plants that like the shade. Caladium foliage is prized because of its unusual colors and patterns. Moonlight is nearly white, lighting up a shady spot. White Queen is equally pale but vividly veined in red. Candididum Sr. has white leaves but the veins are green. Some foliage is wine red with dark green margins, some is green splotched with red. Not many plants can boast of foliage that comes in a full range of white, green, red and pink. A selection of cultivars will be available at local garden centers in the spring, but catalogs like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will give a larger selection of bulbs that you can start early indoors.
I was interested that although caladiums like cool shade, they need warm soil to begin growing. Gardeners are advised to start them indoors in small pots that can be kept on a heat mat.
Caladiums do well in containers by themselves, or in a mixed planting with other annuals or perennials. They are also useful in cut flower arrangements, their handsome foliage showing off blooms to best advantage.
There are other familiar summer blooming bulbs and tubers. The Swan Island Dahlias catalog give a hint of the size and variety of dahlias. There are dwarf plants and small blossoms and large plants that will need staking to support stems that carry many blossoms. Dahlias are wonderful because the more they are cut for bouquets, the more they will bloom. Sun and well drained soil are the main requirements. Like lilies, dahlias do not like fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen.
Summer blooming bulbs can add color to your sunny garden and to your shade garden. The only difficulty is making choices among the hundreds of cultivars available.
Between the Rows January 21, 2012