On The Garden Path: Bulbs
Flowers are on everyone’s mind this time of year, as winter wanes and spring approaches. Gardeners are on the countdown now, ready to push past the last probable date of frost, so they can get their hands in the dirt.
Here are three intriguing summer bulbs to consider using in your garden this year.
With their 15-inch spire of tiny, greenish-white or wine-colored flowers atop a base of broad, strappy green leaves, eucomis – or pineapple lilies – are truly unusual and dramatic in the garden. Even their tall, round stems are intriguing, being weirdly splotched and speckled. Pineapple lilies are superb in sunny garden beds or areas with filtered light, and they are spectacular in containers.
Eucomis are summer bulbs, available in spring from garden centers as bare bulbs or potted nursery plants. Tropical in origin, they should be planted outdoors once the threat of frost is past and the soil has warmed. As container plants – 3 bulbs to a 12-inch pot makes a perfect planting – eucomis can be kept in the background in early summer, then moved forward for prime viewing during their July and August bloom time.
After bloom, pineapple lilies put on a stellar second show as their dried seed heads are considered by many to be even more gorgeous than the original blossoms. They are winter-hardy in USDA Zones 7 through 10. In colder areas, store the bulbs still in their pots over the winter in a protected area, then bring them back out early the next summer to grow and bloom again.
Once primarily available as cut flowers – and usually white – calla lilies are now widely available as garden plants, too, and they come in a wide range of amazing colors.
Calla lilies – also known as Zantedeschia – are famous for the perfection of their velvety, elongated funnel-like flowers. Choices range from small or large flowers, in shades of blush pink, magenta, ruby red, orange, rust, taxi yellow, cream, purple, greenish-yellow, white, dark rose, mango, near-black, and exotic two-tone flushes such as orange-yellow, purple-cream and white-green.
The beauty of calla leaves, which are smooth and broad, are lesser known. They are variously colored soft green, rich green, randomly mottled or wildly spotted with a metallic-looking gleam. Even when not in bloom, callas are hugely appealing in the garden or container plantings.
In the garden, calla lilies bloom mid- through late summer. Originally discovered in South Africa, calla lilies are summer bulbs, hardy in USDA Zones 8 through 10. They can be found in spring as bare bulbs or already growing in nursery pots. Calla lilies should be planted outdoors once the threat of frost is past and the soil has warmed. In colder climates, grow them as annuals or save them over the winter to enjoy again the following summer.
In Europe, the caladiums we know as garden plants are popular as houseplants. It might seem strange to us, but not to them. Colorful caladiums are indeed attractive enough to grace a coffee table, but they’re absolutely stunning in the garden.
In North America, caladiums are prized as a lush landscape solution where shade prevails and summers are hot. Their large, heart-shaped leaves are calm and cooling, whether in hues of green, white, pink, rose or red – in solids, spots, flares or blushes. In dark spots where little else thrives, caladiums happily gain size and provide welcome color. In pots, they excel at visually softening hard edges. Stark places are more pleasing with pots of caladiums grouped to create cool oases, their colorful leaves loosely swaying in the summer breeze.
Most caladiums grow 1 to 3 feet tall, and they do best in full or partial shade. These summer bulbs are readily available at garden centers in spring as either bare bulbs or potted nursery plants.
They are particularly sensitive to cool soil, so starting them up early indoors in pots is a good idea. Plant them outdoors once the soil is warm to the hand. If sufficiently watered, they will perform well all season, until frost. They are hardy in USDA Zones 10 and 11. In cooler areas, they should be grown as annuals or saved over the winter to be enjoyed the next summer.
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