Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2001
Regional Report

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It's summer bulb-planting time. Plant lilies, dahlias, and other summer bulbs in with perennials for a colorful midsummer flower show.

Glorious Summer Bulbs

I like gardening the easy way, with as little hard work as possible, for the least amount of money and the maximum show. If you think that's asking too much, you're probably right. However, I've found that bulbs, although expensive initially, provide years of pleasure and color for very little labor.

Great Summer Bulbs

Spring-flowering daffodils and tulips are not the only flowers grown from bulbs. With a little planning, you can plant a wide selection of bulbs, corms, and tubers to provide color year round in your garden. Right now is the time to plant dahlias, liatris, begonias, gladiolus, iris, and many more exotic yet hardy plants that are perfectly suited to our climate. This year I went a little crazy and bought cannas, iris, barbiana, dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, and even a few "naked ladies" (Hippeastrum). I love the way they seem to just appear toward the end of July.

Buying Bulbs

When shopping for summer-blooming bulbs, select those that are heavy for their size and free of blemishes. Large bulbs mean large flowers, especially with tuberous begonias. Look for bulbs with no sign of fungus disease and with their protective coverings in place. Lilies should be packaged in sawdust or moss so that the bulb doesn't dry out prior to planting.

Planting Bulbs

Planting should be done when the soil temperature reaches 50oF or above and in a full-sun location (unless otherwise noted) for best results. Begonias, of course, need protection from sun and grow best in shady locations. Lilies, on the other hand, like it hot! Some bulbs such as the hippeastrum can even be grown and enjoyed indoors.

Soil for Bulbs

It's always a good idea to amend soil in the planting bed before putting your bulbs in the ground. Organic compost is the ideal soil amendment. You can't go wrong adding compost, no matter what type of soil you have--sandy along the coast and rivers, or clay along inland valleys. Dig the compost in to a depth of at least 12 inches to be sure your bulbs have the nutrients they need right where the roots can reach them.

I usually recommend placing bone meal in the planting hole, but with the recent scare of hoof-and-mouth disease, I am recommending a combination of super phosphate and eggshells to get your new bulbs off to a good start. Commercial bone meal is heat treated and should be okay, but I'd rather err on the safe side. Bone meal is high in phosphorus and calcium; in my new recommendation, the super phosphate provides the phosphorus, the eggshells provide the calcium.

The Right Depth

Plant bulbs at the recommended depth for each variety. The depth is crucial to successful cultivation, protecting the bulbs from heat and allowing the growth tip to be the correct distance from the surface. Cactus dahlias, for example, should be planted with the crown 4 to 6 inches below the surface, while tuberous begonias rest directly on the surface of the soil. Lilies like to be a bit deeper to resist the cold of the winter months.

With proper care these perennials will be with you for many years to come.

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