Planning for Summer “Bulbs”

We are approaching the window for planting summer-blooming bulbs, so it’s time for planning

Summer-blooming bulbs might be called “spring-planted bulbs,” just to be confusing.

For clarity, geophytes, i.e., plants that have underground organs, are grouped in just two categories: spring-planted/summer-blooming, and fall-planted/spring-blooming.

Because plants often do not always follow our categories strictly, blooming seasons include early, mid and late bloomers. Good catalogs and labels will identify a plants bloom season, for reference in planning extended periods of color in the garden.

In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, summer bulbs could be planted anytime between February and April. It’s now too late to plant spring-blooming bulbs.

Many gardeners call all geophytes “bulbs,” but they actually include several kinds of specialized storage organs:

  • True roots: tuberous roots (Dahlia) and storage taproots (carrot)
  • Modified stems: corm (Crocus), Stem tuber (potato), Rhizome (Iris), Pseudobulb (Pleione), Caudex (Adenium)
  • Storage hypocotyl or tuber (Cyclamen)
  • Bulb (Narcissus, onion)

Here is a sampling of popular summer-blooming “bulbs:”

  • African Lily (Agapanthus)
  • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
  • Canna
  • Cape Coast Lily (Crinum)
  • Dahlia
  • Ginger Lily (Hedychium)
  • Gladiolus
  • Lily – Asiatic, Oriental, Species, Hybrids (Lilium)
  • Montbretia (Crocosmia)
  • Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria)
  • Windflower (Anemone coronaria)

Consider planting uncommon “bulbs,” to bring variety into the garden:

  • Chinese Summer Ground Orchid (Bletilla, a terrestrial orchid)
  • Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba)
  • Guernsey Lily (Nerine)
  • Indian Crocus (Pleione, another terrestrial orchid)
  • Pineapple Lily (Eucomis)
  • Rain Lily (Zephyranthes)

Planting guidelines for all geophytes: locate in full sun; select a well-drained bed (underground storage organs could rot in soggy soil); choose plants that are best for your climate; and amend with compost or aged manure for tallest, lushest and healthiest plants.

When selecting plants, check the storage organ for good health. This check can be done easily with dormant bulbs, which might be marketed in plastic baggies, and small potted plants can be lifted gently from their pots to examine their health. If the organ looks black, unusually soft, or otherwise troubled, leave it behind and consider shopping elsewhere.

Summer bulbs can be found now or in the next few weeks at local garden centers. As always, specialized mail order suppliers have online and printed catalogs with larger selections. Here are three to consider:

Brent and Becky’s ((877) 661-2852)

McClure & Zimmerman (800) 883-6998)

John Scheepers, Inc. ((860) 567-0838

Prepare now for color in the summer garden. As always, planting in odd numbers of three or more—if you have space—creates the most attractive displays.

Enjoy your garden!

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