Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Summer-flowering bulbs add color to garden

The abrupt change in weather this past week was welcomed but was it too abrupt? I suppose it depends on whether you prefer wearing woolies or wearing shorts and T-shirt. As far as plant life is concerned, I don't see any serious effect right now other than bringing to an end the extended show of blossoms on trees and shrubs, and spring flowering bulbs that we have enjoyed this spring. It has also shifted my thinking to summer bloomers — no reference to clothing intended. Specifically, I'm thinking about summer-flowering bulbs.

Though I use the term "bulbs", it is only in a non-technical manner. Botanically speaking, summer flowering "bulbs" are true bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots or rhizomes. I'll leave it to you to study the differences; there'll be a quiz.

The summer flowering bulbs I have in mind are of tropical or sub-tropical origin and, therefore, are not hardy to this region. The bulbs, corms, etc. will have to be dug up in the fall and stored indoors if desired for replanting the following spring. These bulbs have multiple uses in home gardens. They may be planted in flower borders to fill in vacant spots, in patio pots and other containers, in cutting garden, or as house plants.

Perhaps, the most popular of the bulbs and most diverse in flower color and size and plant height is dahlia. Some dahlia flowers are the size of dinner plates, assuming you don't dine exclusively on sushi, while others are only a few inches wide. The tall and large flowered dahlias require staking. Besides their spectacular colors, the best thing about dahlias is their long blooming period.

Other beautiful summer flowering bulbs include tuberous begonia, ideal for shady spots; calla lily, a relative of our native Jack-in-the-pulpit and with a similar flower, the colorful part being a modified leaf called a spathe; eucomis, also called "pineapple lily" because its flower resembles a pineapple; canna lily, a heat and sun-loving plant with large leaves and large iris-like flowers but limited in color options (shades of red, orange, yellow); and gladiolus, a popular plant for cutting gardens, now available in a hybrid dwarf form called glamini gladiolus.

Two summer bulbs grown primarily for their colorful foliage are: caladium, a South American native with large heart-shaped leaves with varied patterns of white, red, pink and green; and colocasia, also known as elephant ears for its large arrow-shaped leaves at the end of long petioles.

There are other summer flowering bulbs. Take a moment to browse the displays at your local garden center.

Take a moment to browse at this week's list of gardening tasks:


Make the first sowing of sweet corn when white oak leaves are as large as a gray squirrel's ear. If that squirrel won't sit still for an ear measurement, go ahead and plant the seeds anyway, but leave space for a succession of plantings at two week intervals up to early July.

- Plant a short row of bush beans and continue planting short rows at two-week intervals. There's no sense in putting all your eggs uh, harvested beans ... in one basket at only one time during the growing season.

- Sow seed of New Zealand spinach. It requires cool temperatures for germination, but, unlike common spinach, it thrives in hot summer weather.

- Remove seed pods from tulips, daffodils and hyacinths if you want to tidy up the garden, but you may want to leave the spent flowers on smaller types of spring flowering bulbs, such as Chionodoxa, Eranthis and Scilla, since they re-seed themselves.

- Remove all weeds which are flowering. If allowed to set seed, look forward to spending your summer vacation weeding the garden.

- Plant gladiolus corms at weekly intervals from now through June for a succession of bloom and extended harvest of cut flowers.


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