Summer-Blooming Bulbs You Should Plant in Your Garden

credit: Ramon Gonzalez

Incorporating some of these summer-blooming bulbs into your garden will add color, texture, height and drama. Even the tiniest urban garden can achieve the look of an exotic location with the help of a few bulbs. While I’m categorizing all of these as “bulbs,” some of these plants grow from tubers, corms and rhizomes. Some are perennials and can be planted in the ground in your garden. While others are tender and you’ll need to lift them out of the ground and store them indoors if you live in a northern climate because they won’t survive a winter. For the tender bulbs I find that planting them in pots makes the task of keeping them indoors over the winter a lot easier. Let's take a look at some of my favorite summer bulbs that I've grown in my garden.

Hippeastrum

credit: MrBrownThumb

You may be more familiar with the Hippeastrum genus by the name amaryllis. These bulbs are sold in the fall and winter leading up to the holidays where they are often treated as annuals and tossed after they bloom. After my amaryllis bulbs bloom in winter I like to start fertilizing my bulbs and preparing them for planting outdoors in the spring. I’ll either plant them in large pots, or directly in the ground, to let them fatten up. While outdoors they get the same fertilizer treatment as the rest of the garden. Depending on the age (and variety of the bulb) I can usually coax another bloom out of the bulb by summer. As autumn approaches I cut off the fertilizer and water and allow the bulb to go dormant to let it prepare to bloom indoors again over the winter.

Asiatic Lilies

credit: MrBrownThumb

As you’ll see in an upcoming slide; there are a lot of plants that grow from bulbs and tubers that carry the “lily” name, but only the plants from the Lilium genus are true lilies. Of those the Asiatic and Oriental lilies are the most popular types for us northern gardeners to plant in our gardens. You can plant these in the ground and forget about them. There are a ton of Asiatic lily bulb varieties that you can buy for your garden. The least expensive ones are usually single-colored and last for years in the garden.

Oriental lilies

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Of all the lilies I've planted in my garden the Oriental lilies are my personal favorite. Once matured the bulbs can form really tall stems that reach 6' tall or more in the garden. The large, floppy blooms fill summer evening with an intoxicating perfume. I find they create offset bulbs easily which makes expanding your Oriental lily clumps really easy.

Climbing lily

credit: MrBrownThumb

The climbing lily is one of those plants that carries the “lily” name even though it is not in the Lilium genus. Among other common names, it goes by flame lily, gloriosa lily, and creeping lily. I’d grow them just for the tender tubers, which look like wishbones, but the real attraction of this plant is the striking blooms. As the common name implies, this plant would make a good plant to screen a short fence or patio for some privacy. In the fall, when the plant has gone dormant, I’ll lift the tubers and keep them in the pantry for the winter. I’ve found this plant listed as a houseplant in houseplant books from the 60’s and 70’s, but I’ve yet to try to grow it as a houseplant indoors for the winter.

Oxalis

credit: MrBrownThumb

You may recognize these as relatives of the weedy wood sorrel in your garden, but hear me out before you click the button to the next picture. The Oxalis genus is very large and includes some pretty attractive varieties that you can grow in pots during the summer. I believe the cultivar pictured here is ‘Charmed Wine,’ but I also like ‘Iron Cross’ and some others as accent plants in containers during the summers. These tubers are too tender to stay in my garden over the winter so I lift them and store them indoors when the foliage dies down in autumn. You can also bring them in early and grow them as a houseplant.

Tiger lily

credit: MrBrownThumb

Lilium lancifolium is another true lily. This particular lily is very common where I live and can be found in just about any garden. I got my first couple of bulbs from an old gardener, and now I have more than I can handle. They propagate easily from bulb offsets, but unfortunately also propagate from the bulbils that grow along the stems of the plant. On summer evenings the orange blooms look to be ablaze when the setting sun hits them just right. They can be very aggressive in the garden, and the only reason I keep them is because I’ve noticed a species of native bee that likes to camp down for the night on the leaves.

Calla lilies

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Callas are not true lilies. In the Zantedeschia genus you can find two main types. There are hardier forms, often called arum lilies, that are planted in the ground, and the tender forms that you buy from florists, and garden centers for special occasions and holidays. The tender forms can be found in spring at your local garden center as either bare rhizomes or potted plants. Leaves of the tender varieties usually have spotted leaves and flowers ranging from yellow, orange, pink or dark purple. In the fall you can lift the rhizome and store it indoors, or if potted you can grow it indoors as a houseplant for the winter.

Caladiums

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The Caladium genus is grown for its foliage even though it does flower. These corms are often planted in large masses to provide color and a tropical feel to ornamental garden beds and containers. The leaves can be arrow or heart-shaped, and are marked in a variety of patters in colors like red, pink, green and white. I personally prefer to grow one or two corms in a pot to add a splash of color. In the fall you can either let the corm go dormant or you can bring it indoors and grow it as a houseplant.

Colocasia

credit: MrBrownThumb

The Colocasia genus, like Caladium, is grown primarily in gardens for its foliage. The large leaves emerge from tan-colored corms. In the fall you can lift the corm to store indoors, or bring the whole plant indoors before the first frost and grow it as a houseplant. Pictured above is ‘Black Beauty’ but the green-leafed varieties are most common (and least expensive) at garden centers and nurseries. If you’re just looking for foliage that gives your garden a tropical feel, visit an Asian grocery store and buy taro.

Nodding onion

credit: MrBrownThumb

In my slideshow for spring-blooming bulbs I once again professed by love for ornamental onions. Allium cernuum, commonly known as nodding onion, is no exception. These bulbs are perennial and produce charming globe-shaped flower heads that bob and weave in the summer breeze. In my garden these blooms attract numerous bee species. The flowers come in white or pink and are ornamental as well as edible.

Liatris

credit: MrBrownThumb

I’m not sure how this plant got the common name of gayfeather, but it is one of my favorite perennials bulbs in my garden. The strange-looking flower stalks of Liatris attract a lot of bees and butterflies into my garden with absolutely no care. I highly recommend planting a few of these bulbs in your garden.

Resources: Books, Websites, and Bulb Societies

Pacific Bulb Society - This is a good place to start if you are interested in gardening with bulbs. Their volunteer-complied wiki has lots of useful information on all kinds of bulbs. You can also joining the Pacific Bulb Society, which has benefits like seed and bulb exchanges and publishes a quarterly newsletter on bulbs. International Bulb Society - The International Bulb Society, established in 1933, is an international, non-profit, educational and scientific organization that promotes the growing of bulbs. Bulb by Anna Pavord is a really good book on bulbs. You'll find information on all kind of bulbs, not just spring bloomers, and discover many bulbs that you may not have heard of.

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