Start thinking about planting summer-blooming bulbs
Well here we are at the end of February, and spring feels so close yet so far. Even though March often does indeed roar in like a lion, the promise of at least a few pleasant days, invigorating rains, and the earth beginning to blink flashes of welcome color excites even the least enthusiastic gardener.
It can also be a time of regret, seeing everyone else’s tulips, daffodil and hyacinth in vivid bloom and remembering “that weekend in October I was going to plant my bulbs…” Unfortunately, those early-blooming spring favorites cannot be planted now, but looking ahead it is the right time to start thinking about summer-blooming bulbs to be planted in the spring.
Favorite flowers like iris, gladiolus, and dahlia grow from bulbs that are not hardy enough to last over winter and should be planted shortly after the frost-free date. Here in Delaware County, that date is around May 15. Spring bulbs are a wonderful group of flowers that provide a full spectrum of color, a season of bloom and a wonderful cutting garden for advanced and novice gardeners alike.
Another enjoyable component of spring bulbs is the lack of commitment they require. A bed in the garden planted with summer-blooming bulbs this year can easily be used for vegetables next year. Because these bulbs are more fragile than bulbs planted in the late autumn, they will likely die in the ground over the winter if they are not removed from the ground at the end of the season. However, digging them out at the end of the summer is easy because spring bulbs are planted closer to the surface than bulbs planted in the autumn.
I believe the undisputed queen of summer-blooming bulbs is the dahlia. Dahlias are large, expressive and stunning blooms in a wide spectrum of color. Starbursts of color, they easily ascend to the center stage of any garden. They also make spectacular flowers to be cut and enjoyed inside. Because some dahlia blooms can be so incredibly large, a table can be filled with the color and ambiance of fresh flowers with minimal effort and only a few stems cut from outside. Like most bulbs, dahlias have been hybridized into countless options; almost all colors are available. Whether your garden color scheme is monochromatic with whites and greens or all about the beauty of natural contrast with vivid scarlet against energetic yellow backed by a soothing and cool blue, dahlias are a fabulous addition. They are only hardy in zones 8 to 10, so they must be removed from the soil in the autumn and stored in a frost-free place through the winter. Some have petals that are plain and smooth, some are so intricately curled and ornate they resemble a Dale Chihuly glass installation. These show-stopping blooms are definitely worth the minimal effort of overwintering.
Another summer-blooming bulb that I hold very dear are Oriental lilies. My very first gardening endeavor when I was six years old was a lily garden tucked on the side of my childhood home behind an air conditioner — for some reason my parents did not give me prime front yard real estate. Looking back, I suppose I can understand. Suffice it to say, my lily garden was not a Monet living painting, but my lilies thrived. Oriental lilies are very easy to grow (a six year old can do it!) and provide such a radiant and mesmerizing reward for a quick and easy dig. If you desire to cut your lilies and bring them into arrangements in the house, some find it helpful to cut the stamens (brown pods in the middle) because they can leave a yellow dust that stains and to which some are allergic. Even less work than dahlias, lilies are hardy n zones 5 to 9, so they do not need to be removed from the earth over winter.
An article about summer-blooming bulbs planted in spring would be incomplete without the mention of gladiolus. I feel gladioli, undeservingly so, are often overlooked or dismissed as common. Well … I suppose this could be true. They are one of the most popular cut flowers and are relatively inexpensive in floral shops. Personally, I very much enjoy gladioli. Gladioli come in such a wide array of color and last so long once cut; they really are a great choice for any garden. In floral work, one of the hardest elements to achieve is verticality. Gladioli are long stems packed full of individual blooms, adding effortless height to any arrangement.
With the strange winter we have had thus far, unfortunately even those who were prepared last autumn may not have their spring-blooming bulbs, as many have emerged prematurely and in danger of freezing. Bulbs that can be planted in the spring to bloom within only a few short weeks are a gardener’s best-kept secret. Even if they are your plan B, no one else would ever have to know just how easy they are to enjoy.
Seed starting program
Join the Delaware County Master Gardeners, Grow and Share Community Garden Committee, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, for an instructional program on how to start your vegetable garden. Connie Zuga and Norma Lind will walk you through step by step on how to start your own seeds at home. The program will be held at in the Community Room of the new YMCA, 1121 S. Houk Road, Delaware.
This class is part of the Community Garden program series scheduled for the thirs Thursday of every month, March through September. Programs are free of charge.
For questions, call the extension office at 740–833-2030.
Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.