The tulips, daffodils, crocus and other bulbs we planted last fall have been beautiful this spring. New or beginning gardeners have gone to the garden centers wanting these bulbs only to be told that they are not available until fall. However, there are bulbs that can be planted this spring that will produce beautiful flowers this summer.

          Miniature gladiolus: One catalog called them BUTTERFLY GLADS, another GLAMINI GLADS.  I find it quite common for different concerns to make new names for the same thing, thus making it necessary to know the scientific name. They will grow only about 20 inches high and not like the tall ones we know that tend to collapse when they bloom from the weight of the flowers. In a mixed collection I didn’t get as many colors as I have in the big ones. Glads are actually corms which are a solid, swollen part of a stem.  The old stem is used up at the end of the season and replaced by new ones.

          LILY OF THE VALLEY is really a rhizome as are IRIS-that is, a horizontal stem that sends up leaves or stems at the apex. For their small size they are aggressive and will cover your shady space in damp, well composted soil. Easy to plant at only one inch deep and four inches apart.  Usually white but lately there are pink ones as well as double ones.

The ornamental onions (Alliums) are a true bulb-a modified leaf bud, consisting of a basal plate, short thick stem and fleshy scales or a membranous skin. They range in height from 4 inches (Allium karataniense) to 4 feet (Allium giganteum). They also bloom from early spring to early autumn. Most of them are planted in the fall and are winter hardy.  They also do well in high shade or full sun. Since the leaves of many of the large purple ones disappear in the summer, they can be planted among later appearing plants that will cover the bare spot.  The tall stems can be cut for winter bouquets or just left standing. Probably my favorite is the STAR OF PERSIA (Allium christophii) which only grows 18 inches high and blooms in late spring.  The head may be 15 to 18 inches wide with widely spaced up to one inch blooms on many long stems forming a globe. The little one (Allium karataviense) has bluish foliage and a reddish white flower.

CHIVES are also an Allium (schonsprasum) usually grown in the vegetable garden.  They are about 12 inches high with rose pink flowers from Eurasia. Most people grow them to cut up the leaves for flavoring but the flowers look well in bouquets. It is not one to attract your nose and they reproduce frequently so the clumps need to be divided about every 2 years.

Acidenthera bicolor is a new bulb for me as last summer I had it for the first time.  They have to be dug in the fall like GLADIOLUS. In fact their care is almost identical to GLADS and even the foliage looks alike but the flowers are always white with a maroon center about 3 inches across. In the fall there are new bulbs to keep and old ones to throw away just as Gladiolas. They are natives of Africa.

COLCHICUM is always a surprise when it blooms as the foliage comes up early in the spring and then disappears.  The flowers of COLCHICUM autumnale blooms in late summer and resembles giant Crocus.  I like to have mine planted near the edge of my paths or they could be missed if hidden by other foliage and not having any of their own to mark their spot.  One needs to order them early and know when they will arrive. If you put them aside they may bloom on your shelf.  The foliage appears in the spring and then disappears.

DAHLIAS are tuberous roots. That is, a swollen food storing root with eyes, not on the root itself but on the base of the stem. When you dig them in the fall you need to be careful not to break the tubers off without a part of the stem with a bud.  Some keep the entire clump until spring, while others separate the tubers to save space. They need to be kept in a cool place during winter in sand, vermiculite, etc. to keep them from drying out. In spring I like to put them in damp peat moss to rehydrate and start to grow.  I dig a 6 inch hole, put the tuber in with a stake or a cage and cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil.  As the plant grows I fill the hole in.  I think the depth helps support the plant as the “dinnerplates” are quite heavy.  Each plant needs about 3 feet.  There are smaller varieties just as pretty in many forms called “water lily”, cactus, and bedding. When blooming they need a good supply of water in well drained soil.  I have raised the dwarf form from seed-it comes up immediately and blooms before the dinner plates.

BLEEDING HEARTS (Dicentra species) are sometimes called rhizomes and sometimes tubers.  For me they prefer light shade as they die down after blooming in sun and the plants are not nearly as large the next spring. They can be moved after dying down but the roots can be broken very easily as they are very brittle.  They grow up to 2 feet tall and there are red or white blooms.  I keep a mulch over their roots to have them blooming as long as possible.  There is a Dicentra cucullaria or DUTCHMAN’S BRITCHES with white flowers only about 1 foot tall that dies down even soon.  Dig lots of compost into their soil before planting to help keep the soil cool and damp.

Copyright 2008