There are still hardy bulbs to extend the season from May through frost. Now is the time to buy them at your local garden center or nursery. I checked this week-end and dahlias, caladiums, glads and calla lilies were still on the shelves at some of my nearby garden centers in southwestern Pennsylvania. The folks there said the bulbs won’t last too much longer in the store.
Here are some to try that you may never have thought of to keep your garden in a progression of bloom.
Allium (Allium giganteum) is actually related to the onion. It is lovely in a flower arrangement and equally so in the garden. Allium bulbs can be planted in the spring or fall. This giant onion has a spectacular globular flower head about four to six inches across of tightly covered pinkish-lavender flowers. It likes to be in a sunny, well-drained spot planted eight inches deep and six inches apart. Hardy to zone 4.
Autumn crocus (Crocus sp.) has colorful egg-shaped flowers opening wide in the sun; orange-scarlet, bright red, white, blue and lavender are popular shades. They will go dormant in the heat of summer and again in the cold of winter. Blooming in mid to late fall, they resemble the crocuses associated as spring bloomers. Hardy to zone 4.
Caladiums are known for their leaves of splashy color—leaf markings can be crimson, rose, pink, cool greens and a nearly translucent white. The tubers need to be wintered over in cold climates, but the tropical looking caladium can be enjoyed in a planter outdoors on the patio deck or as an attractive and interesting plant in a shaded area of the garden. They prefer frequent watering, and will have stronger color if planted in a little sun. For a showy effect, plant several plants of the same color together.
Colchicum (Colchicum autumnale) has petals with a glistening appearance and bursts forth in the fall with a palette in white, rose, hot pink and lavender. Their look says, “spring” but their biological clock reads, “fall”. They look prettiest in flowerbeds or rock gardens and under shrubs. For a natural look, plant them under trees in a woodland setting. Ideally, too, they are nice planted in small pockets of bloom tucked along paths or walkways. No special planting needs; simply dig a hole and cover corms with fine soil. They do their best planted in a cool, moist location shaded from direct sunlight. Hardy to zone 4.
For certainty of color from midsummer to frost, dazzle your garden with dahlias (Dahlia Pinnata) In a rainbow colors, dahlias will vary in size from a few inches across to a dinner-plate size. There are dwarf varieties great for edging to larger varieties like water lily and pompon types. They make a beautiful cut flower. Plant the dahlia tubers in a sunny, well-drained fertile soil once the weather has warmed. In colder zones, dig dahlias after a light frost and let the tubers dry in the shade for a week before storing them. Place in ordinary cartons with dry sawdust or dry sand at 35 to 45 degrees F.
In shady gardens, tuberous begonia (Begonia x Tuberhybrida) is a delight in the shady garden with spectacular flowers, both singles and doubles. Lovely shapes resembling a rosebud, a camellia or ruffled like a carnation make the tuberous begonia a beguiling plant in hanging baskets or in massed plantings in the shade. In colder climates, tuberous begonias need to be wintered over in a similar manner as you would with dahlias.
Try some of these bulbs and continue a parade of bulbs more uncommon but just as beautiful as those in your spring garden.
Know the Difference:
True bulbs have a flower bud within them surrounded by layers of food supply; examples—daffodils and tulips.
Corms are a solid mass of stored food, with roots growing from a baseplate and with small buds on top; examples--crocus and gladiolus.
Tubers are a round food-storing part of the stem, and the flower develops within them after planting; examples--dahlia and tuberous begonia.
Rhizomes are like tubers but are long and sometimes form a “V.” Example: canna lily and calla lily.
Tender bulbs need to be wintered over where winters are severe.
Hardy bulbs can remain in the ground through the winter.
Carole McCray is an award-winning garden and lifestyle writer and artist who lives, writes gardens and paints in the scenic Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania. She won the 2003 Garden Writers Award of Achievement for her article on Native Seeds published in The Christian Science Monitor Newspaper.
All Plant Photos courtesy The Netherlands Bulb Information Center North America.