When you say bulbs, most people think of spring-blooming tulips and daffodils. Aside from the common spring bulbs, there is another group of bulbs that shine and can be just as easy to grow as daffodils. They will give you loads of color in foliage and/or flowers, and will actually bloom longer than their spring counterparts.
There are summer bulbs for sun and shade. Two of the most popular shade-loving bulbs are caladiums and elephant ears. Caladiums are annuals and must be replanted each year, or they can be lifted and stored for the winter before a killing frost. Some caladium bulbs will do well in full sun, but I think there are so many sun-loving options that I relegate this bulb to the shade or partial shade areas of the garden. If you can still find the loose bulbs now, you can plant them. They will be up almost instantly in warm soils, since they are heat lovers. Never plant caladium bulbs in cold soil or they will be greatly delayed in their growth cycle. If you can’t find the bulbs, you can find caladium plants that are already growing in a pot. The foliage can come in shades of white, pink or red, with many different leaf patterns. If you have heavy shade, choose the light pink or white varieties to brighten things up.
Most elephant ears are winter hardy and should come back year after year. However, if you are investing in some of the fancy and expensive forms, for safety’s sake you may want to lift and store for the winter. Elephant ear is the common name for a variety of plants including alocasia, colocasia and xanthosoma. Regardless of what you call them, most of them get large, although dwarf ones are available.
Another group of bulbs prized for their foliage as well as their flowers are canna lilies. These plants do best in full sun, but do like water and nutrition. There are tall varieties getting 6 feet tall or higher, but dwarf introductions can be in the 3-foot range. They multiply quickly, so consider dividing them every few years to improve their blooming.
The showstoppers in the garden right now are lilies in all colors and forms. The Asiatic lilies are very easy to grow, along with the orange- and black-spotted tiger lilies, and the large dramatic oriental lilies, which include the stargazer lily. Plant lilies in a well-drained site in full sun and enjoy their magnificent blooms annually.
Gladiolus bulbs are great cut flowers. Many gardeners plant a row of these next to their vegetable garden and use them indoors all summer long. Cut just the flower stalk when the first bloom begins to open and they can easily last two weeks or more inside.
And don’t overlook members of the amaryllis family for summer and fall enjoyment. Do your homework when planning your garden. Make sure you have something blooming in all seasons, and adding some of these low-care summer-blooming bulbs into your summer garden mix will give you plenty of color.
Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.