This year seems to be flying by. We’re already a quarter of the way through the year, and in just a few short months, summer will be here in full force, as will the plants that come with it. We love watching our gardens grow brighter with summer-blooming bulbs like Eucomis, Liatris, and Lilies, to name a few!
For your most beautiful summer-blooming bulbs yet, follow these simple tips on how to plant bulbs!
When and Where to Plant Summer-Blooming Bulbs
The best time to plant them is in the spring when the risk of frost has passed. For tropical plants, soil temperatures must be into the 60’s constantly before it is safe to plug them into the garden. To get a head start, you can plant your bulbs in a container indoors about a month before it’s warm enough to start planting outside. Depending on the bulb cultivar, you can then either transplant the bulb into the ground or leave it in the container.
Different bulbs require different care, so check the cultural instructions that come with your order, or download a copy here. Just follow instructions on how deeply to plant, and how to care for them before, during, and after they bloom. To further narrow down a spot, think about the other colors and heights of nearby plants to make sure you have a nice, complementary design. We also believe bulbs look best when planted staggered in groups rather than in straight lines or individually.
Getting your soil right is probably the most important and most cost-effective first step that someone can take to assure gardening success. We’ve believed in the importance of investing in the addition of organic matter in the soil for many years and as each year passes, our belief becomes stronger. More flowers are produced, plants are healthier, more lush, taller and require less care and water when planted in enriched soil.
We sometimes hear the questions, “My soil is just yucky ole’ clay...that’s okay, isn’t it? Bulbs grow anywhere...right?" Yes, they may emerge almost anywhere, but may not flourish! Our soil is very sandy and we constantly add amendments to try to improve it, or give back to it since it gives SO much to us. The addition of lots of well-decomposed organic matter, compost, leaves, horse manure—anything that will enrich the soil and add unrefined nutrients—is one of the reasons for our gardening successes.
Getting a Head Start
If you’re in a plant zone colder than the recommended one for a particular bulb, you can still grow it, but you may have to start it indoors, transplant it into the garden when the soil is 60°+F and dig it up after the first frost. Many of these bulbs, however, are often less expensive than most annuals you normally purchase and therefore can be treated as an annual as well. Or, if you pot them indoors to get them started early, you can ‘drop’ them in a decorative container—pot and all—and enjoy them on your deck or patio all summer. You can then pick up the pot and bring them indoors for frost-free winter storage. We don’t have a lot of experience in growing them all like this but see them displayed on other gardener’s decks and patios, so we know it can be done!
Another way is to harvest the bulbs in the fall after the frost kills back the leaves, dig up the entire root system and shake off most of the soil. Remove the dead or dying leaves close to the bulb and place the bulbs in dry peat moss or wood shavings in an open paper bag or container that allows the plant to breathe. Store in a cool, dry place between 40°-60°F. Most garages kept above freezing are fine.
We recommend amending your soil and replenishing the trace minerals and nutrients lost through irrigation and plant utilization. We like Azomite, a natural mineral product mined from an ancient deposit in central Utah. We discourage the practice of putting non-organic fertilizer in the hole with the bulb for fear of burning the tender roots. Repeat this each spring. Organic fertilizers can be incorporated in the soil when planting, then broadcast during the growing season. Reapply the following spring.
Liquid fertilizers are not slow-release, so they must be reapplied approximately every four weeks, depending on the amount of organic matter in your soil. While most summer bulbs appreciate some nourishment, avoid high nitrogen fertilizers for most bulb crops (the first number of the formula is for nitrogen) as they tend to encourage lush foliar growth, sometimes at the expense of the flowers. Extra potassium, however, is generally helpful for forming strong, disease-resistant tubers, corms, or bulbs. Phosphorus generally promotes strong flowering, although most soils contain a sufficient amount of this slow-moving nutrient. If your soil is well amended with compost, you will probably not need to fertilize.
We love the versatility of bulbs — if there’s a color, texture, or height missing from your garden design, there’s a bulb to help you out! Adding summer-blooming bulbs to your garden means you’ll have a lush and bright garden on those beloved summer days that so many of us dream about the rest of the year.
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