Unusual Summer Bulbs

Summer “bulb” is a general term that covers more than bulbs; there are rhizomes, corms, and tubers too. With all these options it’s no surprise that the category of summer bulbs includes a lot of variety and goes well beyond the usual canna, dahlia and lily. Here are 5 interesting summer bulbs that I grow in my garden with uncommon beauty.

Colchicum speciosum, agrippinum or autumnale

Also known as Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus, Colchicum species will add sparks of color to your late summer or fall garden. These bulbs produce flowers similar to crocus in appearance, but they are actually members of the lily family.

Excellent hybrid varieties to try include ‘Autumn Queen’ with deep violet flowers; ‘The Giant’, which has pinkish-mauve blooms on a white base; ‘Waterlily’ which is double flowering and lilac colored; ‘Lilac Wonder’ that is pinkish-lilac; ‘Conquest’ is violet; and ‘Violet Queen’ has purplish-mauve flowers and a white center.

Plant corms in late summer or early fall 2 to 4 inches below soil level; 6 inches apart. Choose a location in full sun to partial shade with good, well-draining soil. Good planting sites include the filtered shade of large trees and shrubs, rock gardens or low growing groundcovers. Allowing them to naturalize under low growing, carpeting plants makes a nice backdrop for the flowers. Perennial in zones 4 through 9, colchicums get bigger and better with age.

Good to know – Corms that do not get planted on time will bloom anyway. And you can force them to flower once indoors by setting them upright on a bed of pebbles in a bowl of water up to their base.

Crocosmia X crocosmiflora (Montbretia)

This member of the Iris family has been a favorite for generations in the South, where you can find them flowering in old gardens and home sites. The red, orange or yellow flowers typically bloom mid-summer to fall adding splashes of color to the late season garden during the dog days of summer. Even when they are not in bloom the spikey foliage offers contrast and texture.

Crocosmia is easy to grow in hardiness zones 6 – 10. Set out the corms in early spring when the danger of frost is past. Plant in full sun or partial shade in hotter climates. Plant 3 to 5 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart and group a dozen or more together for the best effect.

There are several cultivars worthy of a primary spot in your garden. ‘Lucifer’ is definitely worth planting with its 4 foot flower stalks and brilliant scarlet flowers. Others are ‘Emily McKenzie, orange with maroon splotches; ‘George Davidson’, lemon yellow flowers on 2 foot stems; and ‘Solfatare’, apricot-yellow flowers with bronze leaves.

Liatris spicata, aspera, pycnostachya

Also known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather, these native perennials endure heat, cold, drought and poor soil. With an extended summer bloom period, the long stems emerge from grassy tufts showcasing rosy-purple bottle brush blooms. These hardy plants return yearly and oftentimes reseed to create colonies of colorful clumps.

Excellent for cutting, drying and beautiful in the border these plants thrive in full sun or part shade and well drained even dry soil with a wide range of texture and fertility. Best grown in as much sun as possible to produce a strong plant.

Plant corms in early spring or in late summer to early fall 1 inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, further apart in humid environments. Keep adequately spaced for good air circulation. Water them regularly to establish the plants but DO NOT overwater. The number of days before blooming is about 70- 90 days. Sometimes support is needed as the stems elongate in windy areas or if the flower spikes topple over if overly fertilized. Dry by hanging upside down in a dry area. Varieties that are worthy to grow in the garden are ‘Kobold’ which is a deeper purple, ‘Silver Tips’ with silvery lavender blooms and ‘Floristan White’ which is an excellent flower for cutting.

Good to know – Growing from corms the ones that are 2 to 7 centimeters long produce the greatest number of flowering stems and as the day length increases the number of flowering stems per corm decreases.

Lycoris squamigera

Call it what you like – Magic Lily, Surprise Lily, Naked lady or Resurrection Lily – Lycoris squamigera is the easiest to grow in the Lycoris family. The pink trumpet shaped blooms provides a real show in the garden. The foliage appears in the early spring, disappears around mid-summer, and then the flowers pop up in early fall. Surprise!

Surprise lilies easily adapt to most growing conditions and are dependable in both the landscapes and containers. Hardy in zones 5 – 11, this is the cold hardiest of the species. It thrives in full sun or partial, open shade and various types of well-drained soil. Plant bulbs about 4 inches deep, 6 inches apart in the fall and then don’t disturb for several years. They will gradually spread over time. Water moderately and apply a liquid fertilizer monthly until the leaves die down.

Good to know – When potting in a container, set them with the tops exposed. And don’t use too large of pot as these bulbs bloom best with crowded roots.

Polianthes tuberose

With good drainage and ample mulching, these Mexican exotics are quite rewarding. They are prized for their tall sprays of pearly white, tubular, very fragrant flowers. Plant them near a patio, walk, deck or other living space to enjoy the spicy-sweet fragrance.

‘The Pearl’ is a double flowered variety and most widely known, but the single flowered types make the longest lasting cut flowers.

Hardy in zones 7(with protection) – 10, grow tuberoses in organically rich, well-draining soil. Plant the rhizomes 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in spring after the threat of frost is past. Provide consistent moisture throughout the growing season.

Good to know – Don’t forego tuberoses if you live in an area where they aren’t hardy. Just treat them as an annual. Start pots indoors in early spring and move them outdoors to a sunny location after the threat of frost has passed.