The Bulbs of Summer
Guest blogger Joannah Hill on summer-flowering bulbs:
Spring has barely begun and I'm already thinking about summer. Sure, tulips and daffodils are great, but I have to confess I only consider them a warm-up act for summer-blooming bulbs.
My foxtail lilies have already thrown out foliage and the allium schubertii have the beginnings of buds. I won't see either of those bloom until June, but it was incentive to start planting some of the other summer-blooming bulbs.
The earliest of the summer bloomers are ranunculus and anemones. But don't try to chew on those tongue-twisters; use their lovely common names instead -- buttercups and windflowers. I asked my little neighbors (ages 4 and 6) to help me plant and they got a lesson on which end is up with these funny-looking bulbs.
Windflower bulbs look like mini-meteorites, and figuring out top from bottom is a thankless task. Plant this one on its side -- or rather the narrow edge. This is actually a good rule of thumb for any perplexing bulb. Upside-down bulbs are a nonstarter. If a bulb is on its side, the shoot will find its way to the surface.
Buttercups are easier to figure out. The bulbs remind me of a jellyfish with its tentacles hanging down. Just remember toes down with this one. My young helpers had fun planting buttercups, plunging the bulbs into the dirt with a vigorous stabbing motion. Luckily the bulbs were sturdier than they looked and survived the enthusiastic planting method.
Freesia and gladiola are best planted after Mother's Day. Find a sunny spot for these bulbs. You can treat the sweet-scented freesia as an annual, as I do, or the bulbs can be lifted and stored in your basement over winter. I leave gladiolas in the ground and I've had some return beautifully year after year and others that produce a few strappy leaves and nothing else. I guess you plant your glads and take your chances.
Last, but not least, are my favorites -- the dahlias. Even though they are all over the garden centers now, do not be tempted to plant them in the garden yet. I usually wait until Memorial Day weekend to plant dahlias. You can, however, start them indoors in pots to jump start the season. The tubers can be lifted and overwintered indoors but I prefer to treat them as annuals. That means I can always try new varieties. I grow four or five heirloom dahlias each year and the plants flower through October.
If you try only one dahlia this year, I recommend Bishop of Llandaff. The Bishop is an heirloom from the early 1920s and has deep red blooms and burgundy foliage. It's leggy and will have to be staked, which is kind of a pain. But all is forgiven, especially when I still have vases full of the long-stemmed flowers just as the leaves on the trees are beginning to fall.
Ranunculus photo credit: iStockphoto