Adventures in Gardening: Bulbs for Summer

by David Soper

Sometimes procrastination pays. Case in point: bulb sales. In the garden centers here, all the bulbs I should have planted last month are now on sale for 30% less.

I was able to pick up some nice canna bulbs for $1.50 each!

You know, it really is not too late to plant gladiolus, dahlias, or even caladiums.

We normally think about planting bulbs in the Fall. I even give lectures and show slides on fall bulbs. The focus of most gardeners historically has been on those bulbs. Ask the average gardener to name three bulbs and they will name tulips, daffodils and maybe hyacinths. Not a summer- blooming bulb among them.

But, in terms of lasting enjoyment and great colors, bulbs planted in the spring are hard to beat. Tulips are great, but the average tulip bloom lasts only two weeks. That's a lot of effort for a pretty limited return.

Dahlias, on the other hand, bloom for weeks. They start sometime in July and bloom until frost. They like rich, organic soil. This is a good place for that steer manure. As someone said, "They are as easy to grow as potatoes."

It is true that most of the spring-planted summer-blooming bulbs are found in tropical places. Most won't survive a cold winter. You have two choices, dig them up and store them until next year or treat them as annuals.

Since I buy mine late and on sale, I just consider them a form of annuals and sometimes they surprise me and show up the following year, too!

Dahlias come in a huge range of bloom forms and colors. Some are small in stature; others are taller than me (6'4"). One of the all-time favorites is a dahlia called "Bishop of Llandaff" (Not a typo, must be Welsh). The good Bishop has dark foliage and produces tons of scarlet flowers running about three inches across.

The big trend in northern gardens is the so-called canna- banana look. Everyone, it seems, wants to have a tropical flavor in their garden. With cannas you get considerable bang for your buck. The foliage alone can be quite spectacular. Big leaves, with yellow and green stripes, topped with large bright blooms.

If you don't have the two-foot circle each five foot plant requires, look for the dwarfs. 'Picasso' is a freckled yellow that "only" grows to be two feet or so. I'm trying it in a pot this year. We'll see what happens. Try something new for a little garden fun this year.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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