Summer Flowering Bulbs

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As you are planning and planting for the summer season, what better plants to use than summer bulbs? They will return year after year with brilliant color displays great for cutting or just enjoying in the garden.

Plants commonly referred to as summer bulbs usually have an underground storage structure. There are many different types of storage organs, including bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tuberous roots. Bulbs can be scaly, like those of the lilies. These bulbs require careful handling because the scales can be easily broken off the parent bulbs.

Other underground structures for summer bulbs include rhizomes, like those of the iris. These grow in mats, often right at the soil surface. Some plants, like dahlias, have tuberous roots as underground storage structures. All of these structures function to store food through the winter to boost plant emergence and provide the flowering structure the following season.

You can find summer flowering bulbs in stores in the early spring. They should be planted at the time you buy them. If they are not hardy for your area, they should be dug up in the fall when they are dormant. When dug in the fall, allow the bulbs to air dry for one to two days and store them in a cool, dry place for planting next spring. There are many summer bulbs from which to choose. Lilies are a popular selection. They thrive in full sun to partial shade. It is important to provide adequate drainage and mulch these plants to keep their roots cool. Lilies make great cut flowers and provide gorgeous color shows during most of the summer season. Lilies come in many colors and shapes, such as the gold colored ‘Enchantment’ lily. ‘Adagio’ is a brilliant red-orange Harlequin lily. In mass, these lilies literally light up your landscape. And lilies come in mixes, too. These work best in informal masses or clump plantings spread throughout your gardens. Multiple flowers can be enjoyed on some types of lilies. These lilies look wonderful in large, cut flower arrangements. Some lilies have long, deep, trumpet-shaped flowers similar to an Easter lily. These are usually grown in pots for sale at special holidays. Planted in the garden, they make bold statements with their large flowers.

Other lilies have flowers that are more open and flat, like a saucer turned on its edge. Several available cultivars have distinctive coloration and often are “freckled.” Lilies can even flower in a “Turk’s cap” shape. The flower petals are whisked back from the flower face, giving it a pillow shaped, or Turk’s cap, appearance. Planted together in mass, these make a great orange proclamation and reflect sunlight in an otherwise dull garden. Lilies are truly garden gems!

Daylilies, although not related to other lilies, also make bright color displays in mid- to late summer. Like lilies, daylilies grow well in full sun to partial shade. They prefer soils high in organic matter that is well drained. Many colors are available to the consumer. These plants grow and spread in the garden, making gorgeous color displays lasting well into the summer season.

Iris’ are another summer bulb favorite. They usually flower during the first part of summer. There are Dutch Iris, generally a little shorter than other iris. They prefer partial shade and well-drained soil. Japanese Iris is a special treat with their unique flowers. Shortened standards give Japanese Iris a squat look. Unusual purple, yellow, and white combinations make the flowers   distinctive. These plants demand acid soils amended with organic matter. ‘Norma,’ another Japanese Iris, has a lovely lavender, ruffled look. These flowers also make great cut flowers, adding a very delicate touch to an arrangement. Shortened forms of iris make attractive bed borders and fill low spots. Bearded Iris comes in many colors other than the typical blue, lavender, and white. The ‘Oriole’ is scarlet, and others come in yellows, peaches, and bicolors. These attractive flowers are probably the best known iris and are favored for their long bloom period. Bearded Iris grows well in full sun. Proper soil drainage is important in preventing bacterial soft rot in the rhizomes.

Dahlias are other summer flowering bulbs that offer a great deal of variety in the garden. They thrive in full sun or partial shade and prefer moist, well-drained soil. Their many brilliant and rich colors make striking displays that provide an excellent garden backdrop. Some dahlias have single blossoms while other dahlias have double blossoms, like the ‘Peppermint Stick.’ Wouldn’t that make a great addition in your garden? Dahlias also have variable heights. The ‘Dwarf Border Jewel’ works well for borders and garden spots needing to be filled with short plants.

Dahlia flowers can be rather exotic looking, like the ‘Bertha Shane’ lavender blend. It looks like a piece of sea coral found in the ocean. In a garden, this particular cultivar would provide interesting texture contrast amongst flowers. Other cultivars, like ‘Starry Night,’ have bicolor petals offering yet more flower diversity in your summer garden.

For the gardener looking for simple flower statements, there are decorative dahlias, like the ‘David Howard’ cultivar. Some are even more boldly colored, like the bicolored ‘Kandy Korn’ Dahlia.

If you are looking for taller flowers in your garden, gladiolus summer bulbs offer a more linear aspect to your garden with their long flower spikes. They like to be planted in full sun locations with moist soil that is well drained and has good air circulation. They make great cut flowers. They, too, come in many colors — yellow, peach, pink, orange, and red. Many cultivars are available to the consumer to satisfy almost any gardening whim.

Cannas also make great garden plants in the summer. These bulbs love the hot summer, growing well in full sun, but needing rich soil and a good moisture supply. ‘Mrs. P.S. du Pont’ is a popular pink canna. ‘Pfitzers Dwarf Yellow’ cannas make great beds with their low height. Cannas are also available in taller cultivars.

Summer bulbs are delightful additions to the garden, giving a brilliant color display when most everything else is browned out from the hot summer sun. Watch your garden center displays in early spring for the best summer flowering bulb selections, and plant a wonderful garden! [From Virginia Cooperative Extension]