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Spring Bulbs for Summer Color

by Lynn Hunt

Let’s play a little name association game. What would be your first response if I said "bulbs?" I’d wager most people would answer "tulips" or "daffodils." Of course these favorites brighten the landscape after a long winter and frankly, it wouldn’t be spring without them. However if you only think about bulbs (or corms, tubers and rhizomes) during the spring season you’ll be missing out on some great summer and fall color.

Delightful dahlias were first grown and hybridized by the Aztecs. Ancient Mexicans used the decorative blooms as food. Today, dahlias are the darlings of the late summer garden, blooming from July until the first frosts of autumn. Dahlias offer diverse petal forms and a variety of colors ranging from white and yellow to pink, red and purple. There are also numerous choices when it comes to size, starting with the minis that grow to about 24 inches, to the giants reaching heights of over eight feet. Taller varieties will require staking.

Plant dahlia tubers about two weeks before your last spring frost. They like well-drained fertile soil mixed with plenty of manure or compost. Six weeks after planting apply fertilizer with a high nitrogen and potassium content to insure strong stems and good flower color. Enjoy the parade of blooms till frosts turn the foliage black. At that time you’ll need to cut back stems, lift tubers from the soil and store them in a dry area over the winter.

You’ll also have to dig up canna rhizomes in the fall but they are well worth the effort. Flower spikes of cream, pink, yellow, orange or red top handsome plants that grow from three to eight feet. Start plants indoors in mid-March or plant directly in the ground in May. Rhizomes should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart.

Two hundred years ago the gladiolus did not feature the showy flowers we’ve come to admire today. So when Linnaeus named the plant he focused on the foliage instead of the bloom. As a result, the translation of the name means "little sword." In contemporary gardens glads are the mainstay of the summer bulb border and one of the best choices for bouquets. Plant the corms as soon as the ground warms up.

Each corm planted will produce one flower stalk. Stagger your plantings over a two-month period for a continuous display. To keep the tall plants from keeling over, stake when the plant is about 6 inches tall, then again just before blooms appear. As everyone knows, glads make fabulous cut flowers. Be sure to leave a minimum of four leaves when you harvest the blooming stalk. Glads will winter over in some parts of zone 7 through zone 10. Winter-hardy varieties are now available for other areas. Ask your Growise Center for selection advice.

Easy care, long-lived lilies may be the loveliest of summer flowering plants. They are prized for the grace and fragrance they add to virtually any garden setting. They make excellent choices for the border, groupings, containers or woodland settings. Bulbs should be set out in well-drained, slightly acid soil as soon as the ground can be worked to a depth of 6 inches. Select a location that offers full sun or partial shade. Plant most lilies two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Generally lilies will not reach their full height until the second year. Once again, tall species will need to be staked. Unlike many other summer flowering bulbs, the majority of lilies are considered perennials in zones 4 through 9.

Last but certainly not least, you might want to consider growing the ornamental onions known as alliums. With a palette including shades of white, yellow, pink, purple and blue, you can add an artistic splash of color anywhere in the garden. Alliums look great with herbs, mounding plants such as bee balm and today’s popular grasses. They are easy to grow and aren’t too fussy about soil conditions. Choose taller varieties for the middle of the perennial border. For example, Allium Giganteum can soar up to five feet in height. Now that’s a summer bulb that truly stands above the crowd!

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