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Summer-Blooming Bulbs


Last spring my sister called to say that she had found a wonderful new anemone to add to her collection in a mixed flower border. When she described the flower, the deeply saturated color and the black center, I knew she had purchased Anemone coronaria, a summer-flowering tender bulb. She was disappointed to learn that these magnificent flowers would not overwinter in her Indiana garden and that they must be lifted in the fall and replanted each spring.

She needn’t have been discouraged. While winter-hardy bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, may be left in place, tender bulbs have their own delights. They will bloom in June and July, and they offer some intense and sometimes exotic colors and shapes. These summer-flowering bulbs need to be treated as annuals, which means you plant them after the soil warms up so they are not subjected to the vagaries of our spring weather. If you want to save them to grow another year, you must dig up the bulbs and store them in a basement or unheated garage. You may grow them in pots as well, but they must have plenty of soil, moisture and good drainage to do well. Feed them lightly every four to five weeks.
As a group, summer bulbs tend to prefer warm soil and ample moisture, but sharp drainage and full sun. Most of them benefit from soaking before planting. Plant the bulbs about 4 inches deep.

Unless you are a botanist, it doesn’t matter much that some of these summer “bulbs” are tubers, corms or rhizomes rather than true bulbs. What does matter is an understanding
of what you can expect from them and what they expect from you.

Anemone
Known as the florist’s anemone, the flowers of Anemone coronaria are prized for their deep, saturated colors of red, blue and purple, often with black centers. The two most commonly sold types arethe single-flowered De Caen, Group and the double-flowered Saint Brigid Group. ‘Mister Fokker’ is a deep blue that is worth seeking out.
Plant them in April as soon as the ground can be worked. Soak the withered brown corms in warm water before planting and plant with the pointy tip up. Keep spent flowers picked clean.

Ranunculus
Plant these romantic flowers in mid-April. Ranunculus do best when nighttime temps are around 35 F and daytime temps are around 65 F. They need well-drained soil and plenty of sun, the same kind of spot where you might plant tomatoes. The roots look like little bunches of bananas; bury them with the points of the “fingers” down. The more you cut them, the more they bloom, but expect them to taper off when it gets really hot and humid. Withhold water in the late summer and fall, and lift them in October for storage.

Crocosmia and Lycoris
When it comes to lycoris and crocosmia, success depends on which variety you choose. Although the naked or resurrection lily (Lycoris squamigera) is a winter-hardy staple in many Midwestern gardens, the bright red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is an evergreen that makes foliage in winter and hates to be moved. Most Crocosmia are also unlikely to overwinter outdoors, except ‘Lucifer’, which is winter-hardy here and does well. I cherish it for the red-orange, firework-like blooms that open right at the Fourth of July.

Gladiolus
As Illinois used to be the glad-growing capital of the nation, we should embrace these sturdy flowers, but unless they are planted in tight groups and staked against the wind, glads can be rather ungainly in the garden. The good news is that there are a few petite varieties that can blend quite nicely into flower gardens.

One newly popular old variety from 1946 is the diminutive cherry red ‘Atom’ whose red flowers, edged in sun-catching silver, is said to attract hummingbirds. ‘Bibi’, ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Boone’ are also worth seeking out for their small stature. Another old favorite with a new name, Gladiolus murielae, formerly called Acidanthera or Abyssinian glad, is a lovely thing with fragrant flowers.

Glads can be planted after the soil warms in May and do well in part shade or sun. Soak the corms before planting and plant in tight groupings for best effect.

Caladium
These underused plants offer spectacular color for the shaded garden or deck. Water lovers, they can be planted in full sun, but only if you can keep them constantly moist. Drip irrigation is advised when planting them in the ground. In pots, they benefit from a saucer filled with water.

The largest Caladium tubers will produce the biggest, most numerous leaves. Soak the tubers and plant them with the bumps (eyes) up, but wait until it is warm to do so. Caladiums do not like cool soil. If you want to get them started early, do so indoors, in pots. Since they will be watered frequently, caladiums will need a weak, balanced fertilizer, especially those grown in pots.

Caladiums should be purchased new each year. The tubers you plant will wither and new, smaller tubers will form. These can be saved with great care, but they will not produce the large leaves produced by commercially grown tubers.

Tuberose
Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) from Mexico is easy to grow, but it needs light, sandy soil and can’t tolerate too much water. Plant the tubers only 2 inches deep and water every 10 days in dry periods. Choose the largest tubers since small ones may not bloom the first year and would need to be saved over winter and grown again to achieve flowering size. The fragrant flowers will bloom in July or August. While ‘The Pearl’, a double form, is most commonly sold, the most fragrant and purest white is the single-flowered ‘Mexican Single’ variety.

Canna
If you think cannas are your grandma’s garden plant, think again. These large tropical plants have both colorful leaves and flowers, make a bold statement in the garden or container and are so easy to grow. They want only sun and plenty of water and food to be spectacular. The bonus is that you get more plants — lots more — every year since the bulbs will multiply underground during the summer.

One good-sized clump can anchor a circular bed while a single plant can serve as a focal point in a large container planting. They are perfect plants to use poolside since they add
a tropical flair and do not shed leaves.

Peruvian daffodil
If you want to grow something really exotic, try this stunning white flower (Ismene x deflexa). The plant is large, the flowers are fragrant and bulbs larger than 3 inches will yield up to ten blooms. The bulbs will grow larger each year when given decent soil, part sun and good moisture.

One of the interesting things about the Peruvian daffodil is its tendency to look toward the sun. Keep this in mind when placing it; you won’t want something this beautiful turning away from your gaze.

Overwintering
Most summer bulbs overwinter best in pots. If you are growing them in containers, simply withhold water in the fall, let them die back naturally and store the pots in a place where they won’t freeze. Moisten the soil once or twice over the winter.

If the bulbs have been growing in the ground, allow them to go dormant before the ground freezes. When the top growth has yellowed and withered away in the fall, dig them up, gently brush away the soil and pack them into boxes with peat moss.

Store the boxes in the basement or an attached garage. Spray the peat to moisten it once or twice during the winter. Even if you neglect the spritzing, some bulbs, such as cannas, may start sprouting on their own when spring rolls around.

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