Get a Garden Rush with Summer Bulbs and Corms

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
You can find the best shades of purple in glads

While spring bulbs gladden a gardener’s heart, those that bloom in summer make my heart race.

There are so many choices just waiting to be grown. Decide which colors and flower forms work best in your garden, and you are on your way.

Gladiolus, once relegated to funeral sprays, have gained new life in a shorter stature. You can find glads from one and a half to six feet tall. Some are only hardy to USDA Zone 9, but many return each year in my Zone 6b/7a garden. Try bright red ‘Atom’ (aka ‘Atomic’) or pink 'Fidelio,’ which impact the garden despite their small size. ‘Green Lace’ and ‘Starface’ are also pint-sized glads.

You can still grow the big gladiolus, but stake them against the wind. I use long metal stakes like those shown below for most of my plants. You can also use dried bamboo or pruned stems from your own shrubs for support. Place these around the bulbs as they emerge from the ground and tie them as they grow so they won’t later bend or break.

Green metal plant supports are easier than tying a plant to a support

 Choose the freshest bulbs and corms you can find. I buy many from online sources like Old House Gardens, but I find dark-leaved cannas locally. Oklahoma is a large producer of cannas. Horn Canna Farm is located in Carnegie. Look for plump, healthy starts, and don’t place summer bulbs into the ground until soil is warm. In the South, that can be as early as late March, but you may want to wait until mid-April in the upper south. This spring, cold fronts barreled through the Midwest nearly every week keeping temperatures unseasonably low. This stalled planting of tropicals and summer bulbs. Wanting to get an early start, I potted up some of my summer bulbs and corms in one gallon containers and placed them beneath lights. After the weather is consistently warm, I’ll place the potted bulbs wherever I find bare spots in the garden. This is also a good way to make sure colors don’t clash.

Glads do suffer from some diseases like corm rot, gray mold, aster yellows, spider mites, thrips and aphids, but I’ve never dealt with these problems in my garden.

Grow all bulbs and corms where you have good drainage, or they will rot.

Byzantine gladiolus are an intense shade of purple/pink

 I love dahlias. In a hot climate, single dahlias like ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘Clair de Lune’ seem to perform best although I’m trying a couple of double forms like ‘Sellwood Glory’ and ‘Prince Noir’ this season. I’m especially fond of dahlias with dark foliage.

Parade of Peacocks’ daylily isn’t a true bulb or lily

 Because they bloom in summer, daylilies are often grouped with summer bulbs. While daylily roots are fleshy and tuberous, they are not bulbs or corms. If you want to learn more about daylilies, I’ve written about them here.  

As for true lilies, try asiatic hybrids for the South. There was a time I didn’t admire their stocky foliage, but I’ve since changed my mind. It looks great with feathery plants like cosmos, Russian sage and artemisia. Asiatic lilies multiply well and are much easier to grow in the South than Oriental, Orienpet or other interspecific hybrids. Buy them in bloom at the nursery, or purchase divisions for early spring planting. B&D Lilies is a great source for all things lily.

Eucomis, pineapple lily, has become very popular in my part of the country. Many gardeners want ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ or ‘Oakhurst’ because of their dark foliage. I also like the statuesque form. They are easy to grow in full sun.

Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has dark foliage instead of the regular green

For the late show, try the always surprising Lyrcoris radiata. Healthy green foliage comes up in spring and dies back in warm weather. In August, stems suddenly appear with red, spidery-shaped blooms. No wonder it’s called surprise lily!

Lycoris radiate, or spider lily is a summer favorite

 Grow summer blooming bulbs and corms to rev up your own engine. They add a bit of “caliente” to the summer border, and fire is just the thing to warm a gardener’s heart.