Bulbs: not just for spring anymore


You may be familiar with the spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, crocus and daffodils. But what about bulbs that flower in the summer?

These heat-loving bulbs are a great way to give your garden color in the later part of the growing season. When your other perennial plants are busy setting seed and preparing for dormancy in fall, these plants are still going strong up until our first frost.

Unlike the spring bloomers that are planted in the fall, summer flowering bulbs are planted in the spring after the danger of frost is over, which is usually around mid-May for us in Denver. These plants are treated like annuals and will not survive our cold winter temperatures, but with a little extra work they can be saved from year to year. The bulbs can be dug up after the first frost that knocks out all the tender foliage and before the ground is too frozen to dig. The bulbs can then be stored in a cool dry place for the winter and replanted in the spring.

Very often the bulbs will multiply during the summer and can be divided to create more plants. This is a great way to get your money’s worth out of what can sometimes be a big investment.

Here are a few options that are easy to grow and that will wow your neighbors:

Dahlias are at the top of my list because of the variety and beauty of their blooms. You can find dahlias in all shapes and sizes from the dinner-plate varieties, that are literally the size of a dinner plate, to the pompom varieties that look like perfectly round puff balls. The variety of colors is endless, and you are sure to find one that will match your tastes. Dahlias can grow quite tall and be somewhat brittle with the weight of their flowers, so it is important to stake them when they are small. I fall in love with dahlias every season, and they are definitely worth the extra work.

Cannas, or sometimes called Canna Lilies, are another great option for a garden bed or a container. Contrary to the name, Cannas are not related to lilies but closely related to ginger and banana families. This plant provides a great vertical element to your garden with its large tropical-looking leaves and brightly colored flowers.

Caladiums are a great option to brighten up a shady garden. Caladiums rarely flower and are grown for their brilliant foliage of red, pink, chartreuse and green. Be on the lookout for the new sun-tolerant varieties.

If you want to get a jump on the season, all of these plants can get started inside before they are planted in the garden. They all need nutrient rich soil and like to stay moist, but never soggy for risk of the tubers rotting. It’s really that easy to grow summer blooming bulbs and you will be rewarded with a beautiful display of flowers and foliage.

The Gardens’ Spring Plant Sale at Denver Botanic Gardens on May 10-11 has a diverse variety of summer bulbs!

Angie Andrade is a senior horticulturist with the Denver Botanic Gardens. She can be reached at horticulture@denverbotanicgardens.org.


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