It’s a good time to plant megawatt bulbs
Even if you don’t grow daffodils, the shine of their cheerful yellow blossoms may inspire you to include bulbs in your own garden. And you can plant daffodils — just not until fall. (Autumn is the time to plant the bulbs you see blooming now.)
However, if you’re inspired and the weather is pleasant, you can plant certain bulbs now — those that gleam in summer and fall.
The everyday definition of “bulb” includes all plants that store their complete life cycle in underground fleshy structures. The official term is geophyte.
The term “bulb” typically refers to all of the following: true bulb (e.g., daffodil); corm (e.g., gladiolus); tuber (e.g., caladium); tuberous stem (e.g., tuberous begonia); tuberous roots (e.g., dahlia); and rhizome (e.g., iris and canna).
Bulbs to plant for bright colors
Excellent as cut flowers, dahlias brighten gardens in the late summer to early fall. Dahlias come in shades of peach, red, lavender, white, yellow, orange and pink. Their shapes vary from tiny pom poms to dinner-plate sized blooms.
In our zone 7, they prefer partial shade and rich well-drained soil. Remember to give them ample water during the summer, especially during periods of drought. They may require staking, as heights up to seven feet are not uncommon.
Peonies are perennials that are sold both as dormant tuberous roots and in containers. Their large blossoms come in a rainbow of colors. They are often so heavy that they require ringed plant supports.
The leathery leaves of peonies make them deer-resistant. Peonies prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil and good air circulation to reduce botrytis, a fungal disease. When happy though, they are long-lived.
Rhizomatous irises planted in spring include Japanese, Siberian, Louisiana and blue flag. Irises are found in all colors except red.
Preferring full sun but growing well in partial shade, they perennialize rapidly. Deer avoid irises because they have either tough or grass-like leaves.
The botanic name for daylilies is Hemerocalis, Greek meaning “beautiful for a day.” While each individual flower lasts a day, by planting a variety of cultivars, you can enjoy blooms all summer.
Easy to grow, they tolerate a range of soils, as well as full sun to partial shade. Daylilies naturalize and serve as background plants in a perennial garden. Daylilies can be found in a spectrum of colors with the exceptions of pure blue and pure white.
You will find container-grown plants and bareroot divisions for planting now. Their only downside: Deer love them as much as we do.
The 300 species of gladioli originate from warmer climates; therefore, their corms need to be lifted and stored for the winter. However, you can enjoy their brilliant flowers throughout the summer if you stagger their planting times weekly.
In well-drained soil, plant the corms 6 to 8 inches apart. Glads survive some deer browsing; however, gladioli are nicknamed “sword lilies,” explaining why deer generally stay away from their straight rough stalks.
Bulbs to brighten shady spaces
Tuberous begonias are spectacular summer flowering bulbs. Colors from soft pastels to brilliant and electric solid colors illuminate dappled spaces. They can be used as bedding plants, in hanging baskets or in containers.
Plant begonias after the last chance of frost. Tuberous begonias do not tolerate stresses: wind, water on their foliage, too much sun or shade, and poor or soggy soil.
Caladiums are a diverse group of tuberous plants, some of which are known as elephant ears. With large leaves of often brilliant colors, these do well in full shade. I especially love their whites and pinks to light up my backyard.
Buy them as bulbs and plant when the soil temperature has warmed up to 65°F, sometime around Memorial Day. Caladiums are deer-resistant, because they produce a toxin called oxalate/oxalic acid.
Bulbs that resist deer
Lesser known, showy agapanthus (or Lily of the Nile) has large globular blue flowers that bloom in late summer. Butterflies and hummingbirds flock to it; however, deer do not, probably due to its leathery leaves.
Canna lilies also have leathery leaves in gorgeous greens or bronze. There are over 60 cultivars available, providing a wide choice of colors that flower for a long time.
When planting in May, find a sunny spot and cover the rhizomes with just an inch of soil. Water thoroughly and fertilize throughout the growing season. In our region, they can be left in the ground all year if protected by mulch over the winter.
To keep summer bulbs over winter
In Virginia, many of our summer- and fall-blooming bulbs are tender (such as dahlias, gladioli, and caladiums) and cannot survive our winter temperatures outdoors.
After frost has killed the foliage, dig the bulbs, allowing them to dry for a few days in an open area, and then store them in dry peat moss in a shed, garage or basement.
Do not use plastic bags or bins for storage; use mesh bags or cardboard boxes. Bring in tuberous begonias and agapanthus to overwinter as house plants to brighten your indoor space.
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.