The Right Bulbs: Plant Now for Great Summer Color

By Brenzel, Kathleen Norris | Sunset, March 2004 | Go to article overview

The Right Bulbs: Plant Now for Great Summer Color


Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Sunset


Of all the flowers in my garden, a few are like old friends who go away for winter, then return all refreshed and exuberant when temperatures warm in late spring. They're the easygoing summer bulbs--callas, dahlias, gladiolus, and lilies (Asiatic and Oriental hybrids)--that come back in garden beds or containers year after year.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Dahlias are the first to reappear (in late April or May), with spring-green foliage and jewel-bright flowers. Gladiolus come next (June or so), sending up spears of cheerful blooms. They're followed by Asiatic lilies, which unfurl star-shaped flowers, and by calla hybrids, whose blooms look like fluted cups. Oriental hybrids make a grand late entrance, in August; their large flowers perfume the whole garden.

Pop a few bulbs in a pot to display on a patio, or add them to a spot in the garden you can see from indoors. You'll enjoy their vivid colors and obliging natures.

RELATED ARTICLE: Which varieties to grow

All of the summer bulbs listed below and on page 64 come in a range of colors and sizes. You'll want to tuck clumps of them between perennials in beds and borders. Tall Oriental lilies and dahlias that reach 5 to 6 ft. make good backdrops for borders; shorter kinds (2 to 4 ft.) are good accents among small-flowered perennials or in containers. We've grown many kinds of summer bulbs over the years. In this chart, we highlight our hands-down favorites for unique coloring and sheer flower power.

NAME & CHARACTERISTICS    OUR FAVORITES   GROWING TIPS    SOURCES

Calla Zantedeschia        'Mango' (shown  SUNSET WESTERN  Calla rhizomes
hybrids. Elegant as they  at right)       GARDEN BOOK     are available
are, white callas pale    bears           CLIMATE ZONES:  in nurseries
beside the newer, more    brilliant       5, 6, 8, 9,     through March.
vivid dwarf calla         orange flowers  12-24; H1, H2.  Or buy plants
hybrids. Plants range     with red        EXPOSURE: Full  in gallon cans
from 1 to 2 ft. tall,     flames and      sun on the      in late
depending on kind. Some   red-orange      coast or in     spring. A
have leaves with tiny     throats. We     overcast        mail-order
clear "windows" that      grew ours in a  areas, light    source for
make them look spotted.   black lava pot  shade or        'Mango' calla
Their flowers come in     for startling   afternoon       rhizomes is
hotter shades such as     contrast.       shade           Pacific Callas
glowing orange as well    Plant grows 2   elsewhere.      (www.calla
as softer pink and        ft. tall.       PLANTING:       lilyshop.
lavender. In the garden,  'Flame',        Plant           pacific
colored callas make       another         rhizomes        callas.com or
excellent border plants,  favorite,       rounded side    800/533-8573).
and they thrive when      looks similar   down and        For 'Flame'
massed in large           (yellow-orange  "bumpy eyes"    calla
(16- to 18-in.-diameter)  blooms          side up. (See   rhizomes, try
containers.               resembling      depth chart,    Van
                          candle flames   page 64.)       Bourgondien
                          darken to red   WATER: Start    (www.
                          as they age).   regular         dutchbulbs.com
                                          watering when   or
                                          growth is 6 to  800/622-9997).
                                          12 in. tall;
                                          keep soil
                                          moist but not
                                          soggy all
                                          season.

Dahlias. Festive, easy,   Waterlily       ZONES: 1-24.    Dahlias grow
and available in many     Dahlia Mix      EXPOSURE: Full  from tuberous
shapes and sizes,         includes        sun.            roots, sold at
dahlias are summer's      flowers in      PLANTING: Dig   nurseries this
perfect flower. … 

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