10 Best Bulbs to Plant in Spring

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10 Best Bulbs to Plant in Spring

Easy Bulbs to Plant in Spring Include Lilies, Dahlias, and More

Hopefully, last fall you planted plenty of spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. They are in the ground waiting for the warmth of spring to wake them up and bloom with the first flowers of spring. Not only are these flowers stunning in their own right, but they are so welcome as nature's official notice that spring is here.

Now that this year’s seed and plant catalogs are here, are you aware that there are bulbs for sale that are planted in the spring and bloom all summer? These plants add a lot to the summer garden and should definitely be included. An example of a true summer flower bulb is the lily. However, in the summer, corms, tubers and rhizomes are commonly referred to as bulbs. Though not true bulbs, plants like dahlias, gladiolus and caladium are planted in much the same way with the main difference being the depth of planting.

Here are some of the commonalities these plants share:

Soil Preparation

Your soil should be a well-draining site. Soggy soil can cause the bulbs to rot. Amend the soil with compost. If you live in the South, most of these bulbs will remain through the winter to bloom again the following year. Preparing and amending the soil should be done before you plant the flower bulbs. In the North, you will need to dig the bulbs out each winter, but you will probably replant them in the same location–so, again, good soil preparation is important.

Planting Bulbs

Usually, the package your flower bulbs come in will have instructions on the depth to plant. While the rule of thumb for spring-blooming bulbs like tulips is to plant at a depth that is three times the height of the bulb, this isn’t always true with summer-blooming bulbs. The tubers and rhizomes tend to be planted much closer to the ground surface. Check the instructions carefully.

Watering and Fertilizer

Most summer flower bulbs need regular watering but allow the soil to dry between watering. If you are treating your bulbs as annuals and don’t intend to keep them over winter, you probably won’t need to fertilize, although a dose in the middle of summer will help them to continue blooming well. If you intend to keep the flower bulb for next year, fertilizer is more important. You want to give the plant plenty of energy to develop a healthy bulb. Of course, keep the area as weed-free as possible to prevent the flowers from having to compete for nutrients.

Growing

The further south, the longer the growing season. However, in the North, the growing season is much shorter. You may want to extend the blooming season by starting your flower bulbs indoors in pots and then transplant them outside when all danger of frost is over.

Storing Bulbs

If you are going to save your bulbs and you don’t live in a Southern growing zone, you will have to dig out the flower bulbs. Wait until the foliage dies back, often after the first frost. Don’t allow the bulbs to freeze. Use a garden fork or spade to dig. Be especially careful with tubers and rhizomes not to damage or break them. Let them dry and then remove most of the soil and dead plant material. Storage can vary depending on the plant, but usually, they either stay as-is with good air circulation or some need to be kept hydrated with a covering of barely damp sphagnum moss.

As you can tell, summer flower bulbs aren’t difficult to grow and they will give such diversity and beauty to your flower garden for years to come. Here are 10 favorite summer bulbs for you to try this coming season.

Asiatic Lilies

Asiatic ilies and Oriental lilies are not the same but have enough commonalities to make each a valuable addition to the perennial bed. Asiatic lilies bloom in spring. Mature plants can grow to as much as six feet tall. Native to Asia, these plants will rapidly multiply in your garden. The stunning flowers are available in many colors–from pastels to vibrant bold colors. This lily has no fragrance. When planting, choose an area of full sun that is well-drained. Plant the bulbs flat side down about three times deeper than the height of the bulb. These bulbs can be left in the ground in winter.

Oriental Lilies

Oriental lilies start to bloom just as the Asiatic lilies start to fade. If you plant both, you will have lilies from spring to fall. Oriental lilies tend to have larger flower heads than the Asiatic lilies and the plants are generally taller. Oriental lilies are very fragrant. These lilies also need full sun and will not tolerate boggy soil conditions. Plant the bulbs, points up, four to six inches deep.  These bulbs can be left in the ground in winter.

Canna Lily

The canna lily is valued for its large tropical-looking foliage almost as much as the exotic-looking flowers. But the canna lily has had a rough time of it. For over 4,000 years, the canna lily was cultivated as a food crop. Its bulb (rhizome) provided a starchy food source for Central and South America. The plant became desirable as a garden plant when plantsmen developed numerous cultivars with many colors and forms, as well as shorter habits. The interest piqued in the formal gardens of Victorian times. But then gardens started to change, and formal style gardens were replaced with informal, more casual gardens. The final blow was the period of WWI and WWII when most people couldn’t afford to grow decorative gardens. Most of the cultivars of the Victorian Era were lost forever. But now there is a resurgence of interest in the canna lily and plantsmen are again working to improve the plant with larger and more exotic blooms. This plant loves the sun and cannot tolerate freezing temperatures. Those who live in zones 8 and north will need to dig up the bulbs each fall.

Calla Lily

Calla lilies are native to South Africa and hardy from zone 8-10. These beautiful chalice-shaped flowers are treated as annuals in zones farther north. Calla lilies should be planted in shade in the higher zones but can tolerate some sun in more Northern areas. They like a lot of organic material and boggy ground. Some varieties of calla lily can be grown in as much as 12 inches of water. They are pretty trouble-free except that consistent moisture level is imperative. Don’t let the soil dry out. If you live in zone 7 and north, you will have to dig out the tubers in winter. Clean the tubers and lay them out in a dry, warm space–70-75 degrees–for two or three days. Once cured, place in a box with slightly damp sphagnum moss and store in a cool space. Check frequently throughout the winter for moisture levels. Too wet and tubers will rot; too dry and tubers will disintegrate.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus actually grow from corms, not bulbs. Gladioli are a popular flower for summer bouquets as they come in every color. These flower stalks will continue blooming with beautiful, ruffled flowers from the bottom of the flower stalk and up. Simply remove the spent lower flower and the higher blooms will open. If you are planting gladiolus for cutting, plant in rows and stagger planting so you will have blooms all season long. Glads, as they are commonly referred to, can also be planted in the perennial bed. Plant in groups of about seven corms per group. Plant corms about four inches deep in full sun. These plants are not cold-tolerant, and the corms will need to be dug up in the fall and stored in a cool dry place for planting again in the spring.

Elephant Ears

This plant is massive with huge leaves. It is amazing to see the size that it grows in one season. The plant can reach a height of seven feet and five to eight feet across. The elephant ear plant prefers boggy, even wet soil and will do well in sun to partial shade. Needless to say, with its massive growth, this bulb should be planted in enriched soil. If you live in zone 6 or less, you will have to dig up the bulb in fall and replant it each spring. It's well worth it for this is a stunning plant with a tropical look.

Dahlias

Dahlias actually grow not from a bulb, but rather a tuber. A tuber is an oversized root much like a potato. Dahlias are one of the most versatile flowers for your garden, mainly because they come in so many forms and sizes. Flower heads can range from compact one-inch blooms to flowers literally the size of a dinner plate. The American Dahlia Society recognizes 18 flower forms and 15 different colors or color combinations. There are over 60,000 named dahlias. Dahlias are native to Mexico and are not cold-tolerant.  If you live in planting zones 8 and higher, your dahlia tuber can remain in the ground year-round. All other zones will need to dig up the tubers before the first freeze and replant them in spring. Don’t be in a hurry to plant the tubers. Dahlias don’t like cold soil. In fact, many northern gardeners choose to plant the tubers in pots to give the dahlias a head start while waiting for the soil to warm up. Plant dahlias so there is about two inches of soil covering the tubers. Interesting fact: Both the dahlia flower and the tuber are edible.

Crocosmia

These flowers grow from corms much like gladioli. They are cold hardy to zone 6; however, there are some varieties like lucifer which are tolerant to cold as far north as zones 4-5. These plants have upright sword-shaped foliage that grows to three feet in height as a mature plant. The flower stems are long and arching with flowers that bloom from the bottom up the stem. Crocosmia will tolerate partial shade, but will form more flowers if in full sun. Wait to plant until the soil warms since the corms will not sprout in cold soil. If you are concerned about winter temperatures, the crocosmia corms can be dug in fall and stored for replanting in the spring.

Hardy Begonia

Hardy begonias have beautiful heart-shaped green leaves with clusters of dangling pink or white flowers. Begonias can tolerate partial to full shade. Hardy begonias are cold-tolerant as far north as zone 6. These begonias want to naturalize and form little bulblets in the axils of the upper leaves in the fall. The bulblets eventually fall to the ground and grow into more plants. If you want the begonias in a different location, carefully gather the bulblets and press them into the soil in the chosen location. Do not cover them with soil or mulch, as they need light to develop. These begonias also do well in pots and bring a little spring indoors during the winter. Because they start growing later in the spring, these flowers are great under spring flowers like bluebells and daffodils. They take over the show when the early spring flowers are finished blooming.

Caladium

Rather than planting for the beautiful flowers, caladiums are planted for their show-stopping foliage. The heart-shaped leaves in pinks, white, red and green will brighten up any shade garden. The white varieties would be perfect in a moon garden. These plants are hardy only in zones 9-12. Further north, they are usually treated like annuals and replanted each year. Plant the tubers smooth side down and cover with two inches of soil.

Any of these 10 suggested bulbs and plants will add to the beauty of your flower gardens this summer and many summers to come.

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