Gardening Articles :: Flowers :: Bulbs :: National Gardening Association

Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs

Summer Bulbs (page 6 of 7)

by Michael MacCaskey


This is a large group of amaryllis-like bulbs that are native to southern Africa. They present the most opportunities for mild-climate gardeners where plantings expand year after year. Where temperatures rarely fall below 20 degrees F., these make outstanding landscaping perennials. Depending upon your climate and the species, you can have nerine in bloom from August to January. Once established and given only a minimum of care, bulbs will survive and multiply for many years. If you live in a colder climate, they adapt readily to pots.

Nerine bowdenii is the most cold hardy of the group, tolerating temperatures to 10 degrees F. Its leaves are an inch wide and a foot long. Dark pink 3-inch flowers come in clusters of 8 to 12 atop 2-foot stems.

The Guernsey lily, N. sarniensis, makes clusters of 10 iridescent crimson flowers, also on 2-foot stalks. Several varieties are available. New ones include 'Cherry Ripe' (rose red), 'Early Snow' (white), 'Radiant Queen' (bright rose pink) and 'Salmon Supreme' (dark salmon pink).

Plant bulbs so that their tips are at the soil surface, and allow about 6 inches between the plants. In pots, use one per 4-inch pot and cover only the bottom half with soil. Wait for growth to begin before watering.

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

If you want fragrance in your garden, you must try tuberose. The intense scent is almost overpowering in a small room on a warm day. Tuberose has a long history in European perfumery, and before that in pre-Columbian Mexico as a chocolate additive. It is an agave relative that's native to Mexico. The plants love heat. Flowers are white, tubular and set along 3-foot spikes. Varying with your climate and planting time, expect flowers from July until frost. 'The Pearl' (double flowers) and 'Mexican Single' (single flowers, taller and perhaps hardier) are the only two varieties commonly available. Leaves are narrow and grassy. Bulbs are hardy to about 20F, meaning mild-climate gardeners can leave them in the ground and treat the plants like perennials. Elsewhere, treat them like tuberous begonias, starting them indoors early, then moving starts outdoors once soil is warm and frost is past. Or, plant in late June for bloom by September. Plant tubers 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Healthy tubers always show a greenish bud. Plants need steady warmth and sun or partial shade.

Tiger Flower (Tigridia pavonia)

Another common name of this bulb, Mexican shell flower, is more descriptive: Imagine beach combing and finding the most delicate, multicolored shell. Flowers are large--3- to 6-inches across--and divided into six segments, three larger outer ones and three smaller ones. Outer segments are usually a solid color--orange, pink, scarlet, white or yellow. Smaller segments are white but with dark blotches. You can buy mixes or separate colors. Each flower only lasts one day, but one follows the next for several weeks of midsummer bloom. Leaves are narrow and ribbed, 1- to 2-feet long. Plant bulbs 1- to 3-inches deep, 5 inches apart, after soil is warm and frost danger is past. They need full sun in coastal, cloudy or humid regions, afternoon shade in hot, dry areas. Performance is often better in northern gardens where summer night temperatures are lower. Plant bulbs in wire baskets to protect from gophers. Dig bulbs in fall and keep dry over winter.

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