Summer Blooming Bulbs and Tubers

  • Post published:02/13/2016
  • Post comments:4 Comments

I missed my chance to plant spring blooming bulbs in the fall, but I am ready for those summer blooming bulbs.

Last spring my husband and I travelled down to Texas to be present when our grandson Anthony was presented with his Boy Scout Eagle Award. There was an impressive ceremony and we were so proud of this whole Eagle family who had jointly done so much for the community.

Besides our family celebration, daughter Kate and I went to a wonderful nursery, the EnchantedForest, and bought some new plants including a caladium that Kate wanted to plant in a handsome blue pot she had just acquired. Caladiums are wonderful plants known for their large dramatic foliage. That foliage can be green and white like Aaron with neat white centers or White Cap which has a more free form pattern of white, or Moonlight which is almost all white. There are green and red cultivars like Scarlet Flame which is mostly scarlet, or Red Flash which has a lighter red with dark red veins and scattered pink and white flecks. There are also paler white and pink caladiums like Summer Pink and Summer Splash that have just a bit of green edging. All of them will light up the shade garden.

There are two main types of caladiums, fancy leaved and strap leaved. Fancy leaved caladiums have large heart shaped leaves on long petioles that can be up to 30 inches wide. Strap leaved caladiums have narrower, thicker leaves with shorter petioles making them more compact growers, like Rosalie with its red leaf and veins, and green margins.

Caladiums are native to South and Central America. The tender tubers are not hardy in our area, but they can be overwintered in a basement if the temperature will remain over 50 degrees. Tubers can be ordered in the spring and started in pots indoors about four weeks before setting out. They will not be happy and will rot in soil that is cooler than 70 degrees. Do you have a soil thermometer in your trug?  It’s time to think about that because soil temperatures are very important in deciding when some plants can be set out.

Caladiums need partial or high dappled shade, and a moist but well drained soil. The phrase ‘moist but well-drained soil’ always seems like an oxymoron to me, but the point is that the soil should never be waterlogged. Dig a generous helping of compost into the bed before planting, adding a little lime to keep the pH between 6 and 6.5. The tubers should be planted about two inches deep and then given a two or three inch layer of mulch. They must be kept moist, and they should get a helping of a balanced 8-8-8 or 6-6-6 fertilizer every six weeks or so.


Caladiums are all about gorgeous foliage. Crocosmias, native to southern Africa, are all about tall dramatic red flowers in mid to late summer. They make a real statement on the Bridge of Flowers and visitors always comment on the tall graceful wands of flame.  I used to think that crocosmia were too tender for our area, but with the change in the weather over the last few years, and I don’t mean this very unusual winter, I think there is a good chance of keeping them from year to year. I have talked to several gardeners who already say they cut the plant down in the fall, cover them with a deep layer of mulch to get them safely through winter.

Crocosmia needs full sun in well drained soil. The corms should be planted two to four inches deep and six to eight inches apart by mid April. It is best to plant five to ten corms per square foot. They will multiply and should be divided every two or three years. A healthy clump of crocosmia with sword shaped foliage will add texture and form to the garden even when it is not in bloom.

I have never tried to grow kniphofia (nee-FOF-ee-a), better known as red hot poker, because I thought it was too tender for Heath. However, they are such stunning exotic looking plants that I hope to give them a try in a carefully chosen spot in my new garden. Kniphofia  have a reputation for being easy to grow, needing only lots of sun and well-drained rich soil.

Kniphofia grows from rhizomes that must be planted two to three inches deep. Any deeper and it may not grow well. It will tolerate some drought, but dependable watering will bring those two to four foot spikes into strong brilliant red/orange/yellow bloom. If planting more than one at a time leave 18 to 24 inches between plants because they will achieve substantial size.

A final brilliant tuber that I have already ordered is the Gloriosa superba Rothschildiana, sometimes called the climbing lily. This lily with its sharply recurved blossoms in shades of yellow and red, depending on the soil, has tendrils that can climb up to six feet on arbors or trellises. I will grow it in a pot, with a trellis, so that I can be sure of keeping it out of harm’s way this summer while we have some exterior work done on our new house.

You may find these plants in garden centers in the spring, but you can also find them at American Meadows, 223 Avenue D Suite 30, Williston, VT05495; or Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, 7900 Daffodil Lane, Gloucester, VA23061.


I’ll give my talk at the Shelburne Grange on The Making of a New Garden on Wednesday, February 17 at Fellowship Hall, 17 Little Mohawk Rd, Shelburne at 7 p.m. The public is invited and I’ll be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road.

Between the Rows   February 6, 2016


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Denise Hammond

    The only bulbs I grow are daffodils. Everything else gets dug up and eaten by the various animals roaming the yard.

  2. Pat

    Denise – I grew lots of daffodils in Heath, and a few snowdrops because they were do dependable – and unappetizing to the critters. I’ve ordered some of these which will mostly be planted in pots. Wish me luck.

  3. Jean

    Pat, Cindy of MCOK took me to Enchanted Forest nursery one time! Crocosmia are so cool looking but I’ve never figured out a good place to try them. They always remind me of Ireland, where I first saw them many years ago. Caladiums get very overused around here but I still like them (though I don’t grow them). I finally tried kniphofia and would really like to try a few more. Hope your talk went well!

  4. Pat

    Jean – The talk went well. You should have heard the gasp when I showed the photo of the yard after a heavy September rain. They didn’t think I was talking about a garden THAT wet!

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