Summer bulbs can be quite rewarding. They put on a fantastic show and, unlike most annuals, can be dug up in the fall and saved from year to year or you can treat them as annuals and replace them every year. If you make the effort to save them, they will reward you with bigger and bigger clumps. Anyone who’s saved their Cannas from year to year knows how quickly they multiply and has probably given away masses of Cannas to their friends.
Many people will start their bulbs in a pot inside the house, but if you haven’t started them inside, now is a good time to start them directly in the ground.
Dahlias are one of my favourite groups. They’re quite easy to grow and produce wonderful flowers in a vast array of colours and sizes. Choose a site that is quite sunny and warm where the water doesn’t pool after a rain. Plant the tubers so that the top is around four inches below the surface of the soil. It’s usually easy to figure out which way is up because part of the previous year’s stalk is still showing. When I’m planting the giant dinnerplate Dahlias, I’ll plant them a little deeper, around six inches, because of the weight of the flowers.
Cannas are an old-fashioned favourite with their tropical foliage and brightly coloured flowers. About 24 hours before planting, soak the rhizomes in water to give them a little boost, then plant them in a sunny spot about six inches below the soil line. If you don’t have any of last year’s growth to tell you which way is up, look for eyes (much like you’d find on a potato) and keep them facing up. Be sure to give them lots of room as they are fast growers. Give the tall varieties about a foot in every direction and the dwarf varieties nine inches.
Gladioli are another favourite of mine. They’ll start blooming mid to late August and continue until frost. The flowers are striking and give a vertical element to your garden. The taller varieties may need staking but the shorter varieties are usually good on their own. They make excellent cut flowers and you’ll often see bunches of them at farmers’ markets or florists. The dwarf varieties can be planted about four inches deep and the larger ones around six inches. The corms will have one side that doesn’t have a skin, with little nubs towards the centre. This is the bottom.
Calla liles have odd looking tubers that remind me of pieces of ginger. Choose a sunny or bright spot that gets some shade in the late afternoon and plant them about four inches below the surface of the soil. This is another one where you look for the eyes, which you want facing up. The flowers are another great one for cutting to bring indoors.
Most people start their Begonias indoors in March or April, but if you haven’t, there’s still time to plant them directly outside. While there are fibrous and rhizomatous (had to look that one up in the dictionary) Begonias, most of the “bulbs” available are tubers. The tubers often look like mushroom caps. This indented side is the part you want facing up. Find a spot with afternoon shade and morning or evening sun and plant them an inch or two deep.
Gloriosa is a tropical vine with exotic flowers. The most common one is bright red with yellow edges, but they are available in lime green and also yellow. Plant them in sun or light shade four to six inches deep on their side. Alternatively, you could plant them in a pot, keep them outside all summer, then bring in the pot before frost and keep it going all winter. It will take a bit of a rest when the daylight hours are reduced, but then perk up long before it’s time to take them out again. Hummingbird lovers should give Bessera (coral drops) or Dichelostemma (pink firecrackers) a try. Neither needs a lot of water and both can be kept inside over the winter like the Gloriosa.
When planting your bulbs outdoors, keep an eye on them during the month of May. You’ll need to protect any above-ground growth from the frost, which is always a possibility until June gets here.