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Dream Big with Summer Bulbs

By Melanie Moffett
In p. Allen Smith
Mar 27th, 2015


article by P. Allen Smith

No doubt we all appreciate the beauty of spring flowering bulbs for their ease of planting, early bloom arrival and loads of color. But what about when spring fades into summer? Most of us want ginormous, stupendous blossoms and magnificent foliage to match—and lots of them. If this is you, then planting summer bulbs definitely is the way to go. This doesn’t mean you must give up your spring flowering bulbs, just make room in your garden for their summer counterparts.  To me, bulbs are a sort of “pre-packaged flower” and all it takes is a little bit of patience and work to unwrap these glorious jewels. Thank goodness there’s a wide variety to choose from, so dream big this summer.

What’s All the Hub Bub Bulb?
When it comes to showy spring flowers, true bulbs like the daffodils and tulips are a no-brainer. But bigger and bolder summer blooms come from pseudo bulbs such as rhizomes, corms or tubers. Although not quite considered true bulbs, they are herbaceous plants that provide underground food storage for new plants with similar results.

True Bulbs: Storage scales around the central leaves and flowering stem like an onion in daffodils and tulips.
Rhizome: Thick, horizontal stems appear root-like in cannas or the calla lily.
Corm: Solid and dense swollen underground stems characteristic of elephant ears.
 Tubers: Fleshy with underground stems characteristic of dahlias and caladiums.

Late spring or early summer is the best time to plant. A good rule of thumb is to plant when soil temperature is between 40 and 60 degrees. In general they should be planted close to the soil’s surface, about 1 to 2 inches deep. Well-drained soil is preferred.

Design For Impact
Texture and pattern of blooms and foliage when planning beds, borders or containers will help determine the layers of depth in your garden and in turn, create rhythm.  Visualize your plants with an eye for texture.  Create borders and arrangements that are dramatic and compliment your blooms and colors.

There are no rules to color combinations but your own—if you love a combination then use it. Also, use your home’s exterior as a guide for color selection. Go a step further and create a canvas for your summer bulbs. I often choose evergreen hedges and shrubs as a backdrop, because green is an excellent garden neutral.  Remember, color creates mood.  Vibrant Asiatic lilies add instant energy to a space while cool-hued calla lilies are relaxing.  You may want to combine a large block of color with two other smaller areas of colors in a 2:1:1 ratio.  Think big and bold, even when it comes to your color selections.

Don’t be timid—plant twice as many dahlias, lilies or autumn crocuses than you originally planned in several varieties to produce the wow factor and boisterous blooms you want to achieve this summer.

Great Foliage
When it comes to majestic foliage bulbs, you can’t showcase your garden any better than with elephant ears, caladiums or cannas.

Elephant ears give a striking tropical effect that make a great showing as a backdrop or a center of interest in any garden.  Elephants ears do exceptionally well in containers, because they will thrive in a variety of lighting conditions.  Colocasias prefer full sun and plenty of water making them the perfect choice for water gardens. Alocasias, on the other hand, like a little shade.

Caladiums, like elephant ears, are tropical bulbs with spectacular foliage.  The broad leaves come in green, white, red and pink colored variations. Since they are not fussy about sun, I use them in combination with ferns and hostas to highlight shady corners in the garden.

Canna will provide a bold, green canvas for any blooms you choose. Their foliage alone provides texture, visual weight and stunning color. To get cannas ready for the garden, I start them in containers and let them grow indoors until after the last frost then safely transplant them in the garden.

Abundant Blooms
If you want big, bodacious blooms this year, dare to fill your garden with a multitude of eye-catching dahlias and lily variations.

Dahlias are sub-tropical showstoppers, and there’s no better way to enjoy the robust blooms of dahlias than to plant them in large drifts in a flower border.  Try combining 3 to 5 plants in the same location with full sun. Dahlias also make an excellent cut flower.

Lilies, such as the Asiatic and Oriental need plenty of sun. Of all the modern lily hybrids, the Asiatic is the easiest to grow, but Oriental have large, delicate curved petals and a sweet fragrance.  Lilies have three main cultural requirements – deep, loose soil; consistent moisture; and cool roots with sun on the leaves.

Calla lilies, though similar in appearance are not considered true lilies. Nevertheless, they are stunning additions to your garden and prefer full sun or partial shade.  I usually wait until the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed before planting. To produce lots of blooms, try feeding your calla lilies once a month with an all-purpose fertilizer.