If you’re anything like me, you spend every spring kicking yourself for dropping the ball last fall and not planting more bulbs of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths – all those cheerful, fragrant flowers that are such a welcome sight after the greys and browns of winter. But did you know there’s still time to get in the bulb planting game? Not for spring bloomers, of course, that ship has sailed. But there are a number of other bulbs that, if planted now, will keep your summer garden bursting with colorful variety right into autumn.
Anyone who’s a regular at the farmer’s market will likely be familiar with the tall stalks of gladiolus that start to show up when the weather gets warm. Known as the “sword lily” in their native South Africa, gladioli lend more than a little drama to flowerbeds with bloom-covered spikes that come in a range of vibrant colors, and can reach 4 to 6 feet in height. And not only do they pull their weight as a focal point in the midsummer garden, glads are striking when cut and grouped in a vase, or mixed with other flowers in an arrangement. For best results, plant these bulbs in full sun in a well-drained, sandy loam soil.
If your garden is on the shadier side, consider adding caladium bulbs to the usual roster of hosta plants, begonias and impatiens. With elegant, heart-shaped leaves streaked with pinks and reds, caladiums provide consistent visual interest when the rest of your perennials may be flagging in the late summer heat. Caladium bulbs are hardy and easy to grow, and they do perform best when planted in a well-drained, shady spot, though some varieties will tolerate sun if they’re provided sufficient water. Plant after any danger of frost has passed.
A favorite of this writer and florists everywhere, dahlias range in size from diminutive up to “dinnerplate,” are available in a variety of heights and colors and bloom consistently throughout the season. Shall I go on? These multi-petaled beauties are easy to grow, and they are a must for the cutting garden as blooms really shine in bouquets and arrangements. Dahlia bulbs, known as tubers, can be planted as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Site them in a sunny, well-drained location, and stake the taller varieties to prevent wind, rain or even heavy flower heads from snapping the stems.
Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.