Planting a variety of bulbs is a surefire way to add color to gardens all season long. Each bulb contains a young shoot and the food it needs to get growing, forming a perfect little package just waiting to burst forth into bloom. Mention bulbs and most people think of spring-flowering types, such as tulips and daffodils, that are planted in fall. However, there are also spring-planted bulbs that will provide exuberant blooms in summer.
Bulbs can be classified by their hardiness. Hardy bulbs are perennials and can remain in the ground to resprout year after year. Tender bulbs are tropical and in all but the warmest regions they should be dug in the fall, stored, and replanted the following spring. (Note that some of the "bulbs" are, botanically speaking, corms or tubers.)
Hardy Bulbs for Perennial Color
Perhaps the most popular of the hardy bulbs are lilies, and for good reason. Few plants provide such dramatic color, fragrance, and reliability. Within the lily family there are numerous types, including Asiatic, Oriental, tiger, Easter, and trumpet. Plant some from each group and you can have blooms over most of the growing season, both in gardens and in long-lasting bouquets. Asiatic lilies are among the most popular, boasting tall stalks with numerous large, jewel-toned blooms. For fragrance, you'll want to add Oriental lilies. Plant lily bulbs immediately after you receive them. Unlike other bulbs, they don't go dormant, so treat them like the living plant that they are. If you must wait a few days, keep the bulbs moist and store them in your refrigerator.
Another beautiful bulb is crocosmia, which sports gracefully arched stems covered with crimson, orange, or yellow blooms in midsummer. Gardeners in the U.S. are just discovering crocosmias, but the plant has long been popular in England, where it's known as montbretia. The handsome, iris-like foliage is attractive as well ? a fortunate trait since you may be tempted to cut the flowers for indoor bouquets.
The Trend Toward Tropical
Bulbs from tropical regions can't withstand cold winters, but don't let that discourage you from planting them. If the word "tropical" conjures up images of bold, bright, dramatic flowers, then you've got the right idea.
Gladiolas are the classic cut flower, with 4-foot spikes of dramatic blooms, but there's no reason to confine them to the cutting garden. Add them to the back of the border, too, for a colorful, living "fence." Stagger planting dates to extend the display.
Compared to stately gladiolas, cannas are bold and brash, with huge leaves and extravagant blooms. They're perfect for the tropical garden style that's all the rage -- even in decidedly non-tropical regions. Callas and peacock lilies (acidanthera) are more demure. Both make ideal cut flowers and complement most perennials.
Few flowers can boast the range of sizes, colors, and forms of the dahlia. Ranging in height from 1 to 6 feet with blooms in all colors of the rainbow except blue, there's a dahlia for every gardening situation. Plant formal-looking pompon dahlias along a front entryway. Use cactus-flowered types in containers, where you can enjoy the striking flowers up close. Add tall varieties to the cutting garden. There's a reason there are about 50,000 named dahlia varieties -- everyone loves them!
Since tender bulbs can't withstand frost, you'll need to wait until temperatures warm up to plant them outdoors. However, by planting some bulbs indoors, you can get a jump on the flowering season and enjoy tropical blooms into autumn.
Whether you're a novice gardener looking for easy-to-grow, reliable plants or an experienced gardener looking to add dramatic splashes of color, summer-blooming bulbs are the perfect choice.