They’re baaaack. The shelves of your favorite garden centers, especially the big-box ones, are beginning to buckle with that annual invasion of summer annuals. Flats of colorful petunias, geraniums, marigolds and dozens others shout: Get ready. Spring is here! Yet, as you weed through all the choices, remember that transplants aren’t the only way to give your garden that shot of vibrant color and rich texture.
Consider summer bulbs as well.
Boxes of caladiums, lilies, gladiola, cannas, elephant’s ears and a host of other bulbs are starting to line those garden center shelves now, too. Buy them now while selection is best - just don’t plant them until late April or May, depending on your climate, when soil temperatures consistently reach 65 to 70 degrees. If you plant the bulbs too early they’re likely to rot in the cold soil.
Depending on where you live, many can be left in the ground over the winter and can be allowed to multiply year after year! (What gardener doesn’t love that kind of long-term investment?)
Among flowering bulbs, look for hardy lilies – many old fashioned and fragrant varieties – such as tiger lilies, which can grow three to 5 feet tall with black-speckled orange trumpets; ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies, with their 3- to 4-foot stems supporting heady-scented creamy white flowers; and ‘Golden Splendor’ lilies, which can reach 6 feet and are drought tolerant. Other options include surprise lilies or Naked Ladies, which feature dark rose flowers on 2-foot stems, and elegant little rain lilies, which once established yield masses of pure white flowers on short stems. Then there are the giant old-fashioned crinums, which offer a variety of bloom colors and are fragrant and deer-resistant.
Cannas are another bulb type that lends dramatic height and color to the garden – especially with their strappy foliage, which can vary from green and chartreuse to bronze and deep burgundy. Canna ‘Phasion’ offers variegated leaves of green, pink and bronze.
Most of these summer-flowering bulbs will continue blooming into late summer and fall, when that grand dame of them all hits the stage – the dahlia. Actually not a bulb but a tuber, it produces flowers in a wide variety of rich colors, forms and textures, from pom-pom size to dinner plate.
Finally, there are summer bulbs that don’t flower at all but are prized for their dramatic foliage. New hybrids of elephant’s ears now come in more than just green – look for lime green and dark purple (nearly black) varieties – as well as ones that sport non-droopy leaves that point upright or form teacup shapes, some topping out at six feet or taller. And for shade gardens and containers, you simply can’t beat caladiums, with their heart-shaped foliage in wide-ranging variegated colors of red, purple, pink, white and green.