Summer Bulb Primer
Summer-flowering bulbs, corms and tubers
are becoming an increasing popular staple of the summer garden. More and
more gardeners are discovering that the flowering periods of some of these
plants, such as dahlias and tuberous begonias (early summer to first
frost), far surpass those of almost any other garden plant.
As well, summer bulbs are being recognized
as being able to fulfill Canadian gardeners’ continuing quest to have
something ‘new’ and ‘different’ in their gardens. Most recognized
in the summer bulb/corm/tuber family are the ‘big three’ - dahlias,
begonias and gladioli. But there are so many more, for example:
Acidanthera, the Abssyinian gladioli with its fragrant, 10 cm white
flowers with reddish purple centres.
Agapanthus, with its tall, imposing stem topped with masses of
blue-purple flowers making up each blossom and its glossy, strap like,
evergreen leaves which are decorative even when the plant is not in
with its enormous white, scarlet, apricot, coral, pink, or yellow blooms
and lush, tropical foliage.
extremely popular Eucomis, better know as the pineapple lily with
its tuft of small leaves crowning a dense spike of blooms.
Galtonia which bears up to 30 white or green-tinged nodding flowers on
each sturdy one meter spike rising above its strap like leaves.
- Gloriosa, or
climbing lily with its dramatically shaped yellow and red flowers, glossy
tendril-tipped leaves and vine-like habit.
You’ll notice, we have only arrived at ‘G’ in the
alphabet. There are so very many more summer bulbs from which the savvy,
adventuresome gardener can choose.
Where to plant
Summer bulbs are at home in almost every
type of location. They are a wonderful addition to perennial borders as
there are short, medium-height and tall varieties from which to choose,
making those important splashes of colour possible everywhere.
Their wide assortment provides the ideal
flowers for any style of garden, be it formal, cottage, minimalist,
cutting, traditional or eclectic.
Pots and containers
One area in which summer bulbs and their
corm, tuber and rhizome cousins are especially well suited, is in pots and
containers. No longer is the condominium, apartment or patio owner limited
to a few flats of impatiens and geraniums.
It’s all possible. Colourful pots of:
elegant lilies; unique, fragrant Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis);
tropical Cannas; pretty-in-pink Nerines; the clustered, white, star like
blossoms of Ornithogalum; multicoloured Ranunculus or
Persian buttercups; one of the showiest of bulbs Tigridia with its
brilliantly coloured, uniquely marked flowers - and, once again, the list
could go on, and on.
Summer bulbs grow and thrive in all sorts
of pots and containers, with the one caveat, that they all have good
drainage, as none of these plants like ‘wet toes’.
The garden owner could also do well to pot
up some summer bulbs to use as movable splashes of colour in locations
that are temporarily between blossoms.
When to plant
When to plant depends on the type of bulb.
In many years, gladioli corms can be planted as soon as early May.
Although not winter hardy, by the time the corms are 10 cm underground,
the last ground frosts of spring will have little chance of harming them.
On the other hand, since tuberous begonias are covered with only one cm of
soil, they shouldn’t be planted until late May. The planting times for
all other summer-flowering bulbs fall between these two extremes.
How to plant
Planting can be done in a variety of ways.
If planting small quantities of each kind, the best method is to arrange
the bulbs where you want them and then dig a hole for each one with a
trowel. If planting large quantities, consider removing all the soil at
that location down to the level where the bulbs will be planted.
Planting depths differ wildly. Some are
planted two to three times as deep as they are high, others are covered
with only a centimetre of soil. Packaged summer-bloomers will have
planting instructions on the wrapping. If you are buying loose bulbs,
double check planting instructions with garden centre staff.
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