Dahlia

Dahlias look nothing like this yet.

There is nothing simple about dahlia. Some are short bedding plants that behave as annuals. Tree dahlias develop big and lanky canes that can get as high as ground floor eaves, only to replace them during the next summer. The most popular dahlias are lushly foliated perennials with striking and extraordinarily colorful bloom. Most are taller than bedding dahlias, but less than six feet tall.

Dahlias can bloom just about any color except blue. However, most purple dahlias tend to be rather reddish or pinkish. Green dahlias are rare, and tend to be rather yellowish. Floral form is wildly variable! So is floral size. Some dahlia flowers get no wider than two inches. Larger sorts get about ten inches wide, so must be staked. Dahlias might be as variable as related chrysanthemums.

Dormant dahlia tubers can go into the garden as early as late autumn here. Most start in winter though, to be less susceptible to rot while waiting for spring. After blooming through summer, dahlia growth succumbs to frost late in autumn. Division of crowded dormant tubers every few years promotes healthier spring regeneration. There is no need to dig and store tubers through winter here.

Summer Bulbs After Spring Bulbs

Summer bulbs start late in winter.

It was easy to bury spring bulbs so discourteously in shallow graves last autumn. None of them got proper funerals. Perhaps cool season annuals obscured their interment sites. No one needed to know they were there. It seemed like a perfect crime, until now. They are back like the undead. After all, they were not dead when interred. They were merely dormant, and likely plump and healthy.

Crocus, snowdrop, narcissus and some of the other related daffodil might already be blooming. Otherwise, their foliage is emerging above the soil. They do not necessarily wait for the soil to get warmer later in winter. Hyacinth and tulip will bloom a bit later. Delayed planting delays bloom, but only for the first season. Established spring bulbs from previous seasons will bloom as they like.

Spring bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, prefer early interment for a reason. They appreciate a good chill through winter. Although most get refrigerated artificially prior to sale, they certainly do not mind a bit more chill. Besides, they also appreciate early root dispersion, even while still dormant. They prefer to bloom early, but unfortunately, also finish bloom early.

Summer bulbs are very different. They go into the garden later because they do not require chill. Furthermore, many types are sensitive to minor frost if they begin to grow too early in winter. Since they start growth later than spring bulbs, summer bulbs generally bloom later. However, some bloom for extensive seasons. A few summer bulbs bloom from early summer until frost in late autumn.

Dahlia, canna and old fashioned white calla are the more reliable of summer bulbs to plant now. Old fashioned white calla may be rare in nurseries. Smaller, more colorful, but less vigorous callas are more popular. Such summer bulbs are more sustainable than spring bulbs, and can perform for many years. Gladiolus and various lily are spectacular summer bulbs, but bloom once annually.

Incidentally, unlike the spring bulbs, most summer bulbs are actually corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots.

Abyssinian Gladiolus

Abyssinian gladiolus might still be blooming.

Summer bulbs and bulb like perennials bloom after spring bulbs. They therefore prefer later planting. Abyssinian gladiolus, Gladiolus murielae, is likely unavailable in nurseries while spring bulbs are seasonable. Their bulbs should be obtainable and ready for planting later, while other summer bulbs are in season. Abyssinian gladiolus blooms late in summer, or may still be blooming now.

Abyssinian gladiolus is more discreet than the more common hybrid gladiolus. It is also more reliably perennial. In favorable conditions, bulbs might multiply enough to be somewhat invasive. The narrow leaves stand more than two feet tall. Floral stems can be three feet tall, to loosely suspend a few white flowers with garnet red centers. Each mildly fragrant flower is about two inches wide.

The bulbs, which are technically corms, prefer organically rich soil that drains well. Digging and storing them through the locally mild winters is unnecessary. After many years, established colonies of bulbs might migrate upward and closer to the surface of the soil. Digging dormant bulbs that have gotten too shallow to stand upright while foliated, and burying them deeper, improves stability.

Ghost of Weddings Past

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Easter lilies are still my favorite of the lilies!

Weddings are normally common at the small historic chapel at work. This is normally the busiest season there. Since the chapel is presently unused, and it will likely remain unused for quite a while, we have not replaced the white pansies, that were out front through winter, with new white blooming warm season annuals for summer. The minimal landscape seems a bit emptier.

A colony of white hydrangeas to the left of the chapel happen to be blooming late this year, as if they know there is no rush. The smaller hydrangeas in the foreground of this colony were not original to the landscape, but were added as they were left behind after weddings. (Florist hydrangeas are innately more compact.) Blue and pink hydrangeas went to blue and pink colonies.

Our chrysanthemums were left behind after weddings too. They were originally fancy potted mums that provided more color than white. They are not as prolific with bloom in landscapes as they were originally, but they seem happy to adapt, and perform as short term perennials. It is better than going straightaway to the compost pile or greenwaste. They are appreciated here.

A pair of potted Easter lilies that were left behind with other potted blooming plants after a wedding last year were not installed into the landscape, so remained in the storage nursery. They were not expected to regenerate efficiently after their primary bloom. Surprisingly, they not only regenerated, but bloomed about as spectacularly as we want to believe they are capable of.

Rather than put them out into a landscape where there are few people about to see them, we left them to bloom here where at least those who work here can appreciate them for a few days. They will go to one of the gardens this autumn.

Canna

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Cannas are just dormant rhizomes now.

It is difficult to document the lineages of the countless modern garden varieties that have been hybridized from ten species of Canna. Straight species that are popularly grown within their native ranges are rare here. Some species are grown for their thick edible rhizomes. Many are grown for edible foliage. Some are employed to absorb toxins from contaminated riparian environments.

Garden varieties that are popular here are grown merely for their aesthetic appeal. The lushly big leaves are typically rich green, but might be bronzed, dark purplish bronze, or striped with yellow, bronze, creamy white or peachy pink. Large varieties get taller than eight feet. Compact types stay less than three feet tall. All foliage dies to the ground after frost, and grows back fast in spring.

The flashiest parts of canna flowers are actually very specialized stamens known as staminodes, which mostly obscure the very subdued petals and sepals. Red, orange, yellow, pink, salmon or very pale yellowish white bloom may be spotted or blotched. Flowers might be thin and wispy, or rather floppy and lush. Canna are popularly known as canna lilies, but are not at all related to lilies.

Bulb-Like Perennials For Summer

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Dahlias planted now bloom in summer.

Like something of bad science fiction, they are back. The earliest of spring bulbs that were so discourteously buried in shallow graves last autumn are making their presence known. Even before the weather gets noticeably warmer, their foliage emerges above the surface of the soil. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop are already blooming. Hyacinth, tulip and anemone will be next.

We know them as spring bulbs, or alternatively, as hardy bulbs. However, in this climate, many bloom through late winter, so are finished by spring. Also, many are technically not really bulbs. They might be corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. They are hardy bulbs because they want to be planted through autumn so that they can get a bit of chill through winter before their early bloom.

Some spring bulbs require a bit more of a chill than they get in the locally mild climate. They bloom very well in their first season because they are pre-chilled before they are sold. Once dormant, they get dug and chilled in refrigeration to entice them to bloom well for subsequent seasons. That happens much later in the year though. For now, long before spring, we get to enjoy their bloom.

Summer bulbs, which are not so hardy, are what gets planted about now. Their planting is delayed, not just because they do not need chill, but also because they dislike it. If their foliage develops too early, it can be damaged by late frost. Once established, summer bulbs are more resilient to minor frost damage of premature foliage. They can therefore remain in the garden for many years.

Canna, dahlia and big old fashioned white calla are the simplest of summer bulb-like perennials to plant now. Those that are already established can be divided if crowded. The smaller and more colorful callas can be a bit more finicky. Gladiolus and various lilies are spectacular, but bloom only once annually, rather than throughout summer. They are also unlikely to establish as perennials.

Bulb-like perennials that bloom only once might be planted in phases to prolong their potentially brief bloom season.

Naked Lady Amaryllis

90821From formerly dormant bulbs just below where their foliage shriveled in the warmth of last spring, the naked brown floral stalks of naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, grow fast to about two feet tall. They bloom suddenly with a few or several garish pink lily flowers about three inches long. They are sneaky about it too. Without foliage, and prior to flashy bloom, the bare stalks are easy to miss.

Even though individual flowers do not last long, the collective bloom lingers a bit longer as newer flowers bloom to replace those that bloomed slightly earlier on the same stalks. They are nice as cut flowers. The minimal floral fragrance is usually unnoticed, so can be a surprise if the weather happens to be conducive to the dispersion of the light fragrance of exceptionally abundant bloom.

Foliage does not regenerate until after bloom, and should wait until after the first rain of autumn. Where winters are colder, it waits until early spring, only to die back before summer. The long strap shaped leaves resemble those of lily-of-the-Nile, but are a bit softer. If ruined by frost, they try again. The tops of the two or three inch wide bulbs are visible at the surface of the soil while dormant.

What Bulbs Do After Bloom

90403thumbNarcissus, daffodil, freesia, snowdrop, snowflake, grape hyacinth, various iris and most other early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like plants should be perennials. We plant them with the hope that the will survive after bloom to bloom for another season, and perhaps for many seasons. Some should multiply to provide more bloom over the years. Bloom is just part of their annual cycle.

Lily, crocus, hyacinth, tulip, anemone and ranunculus are not nearly as likely to bloom more than one year for a variety of reasons. Some prefer more chill in winter. Some dislike the long and dry summers. Some survive as perennials, but do not bloom again. However, in some special situations, they also can bloom annually. After spring bulbs, there will be a different set of summer bulbs.

So, what happens after bloom? After exhausting much of their stored resources on production of bloom and foliage, bulbs try to recover and regenerate resources for the following season. Most work to replace their exhausted bulbs with comparable new bulbs. They need foliage to do this, but eventually shed their foliage as their new bulbs go dormant for the following autumn and winter.

Of course, they all do this at different rates. Some smaller bulbs are surprisingly efficient, and shed their foliage as soon as the weather gets warm later in spring. It is amazing that they can store up so much in such a minimal time. Other bulbs shed slowly, as their deteriorating foliage lingers for a few weeks into summer. Foliage of summer bulbs that bloom later is likely to linger until frost.

Because it is essential to the regenerative process, deteriorating foliage can not be cut back prematurely. It is not always easy to hide either. In mixed plantings, it might be obscured by ground cover or other plants. Alternatively, warm season annuals can be planted over the area. Some of us braid daffodil leaves, but others believe that braids draw attention to the deteriorating foliage.

Those of us who still dig and store and perhaps chill marginal bulbs, must wait for complete dormancy.

Bulbs Are Not Finished Yet

90213thumbIt was easy to forget about spring bulbs after they went into the ground so unceremoniously last autumn. They got buried without so much as proper funerals. Cool season annuals got planted over the grave sites of some, just because bare soil is not much to look at. They stayed silent out in the garden through the cool and rainy winter weather. It might have seemed like the perfect crime.

Now they are back. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop might already be blooming. If not, they are at least extending their vertical foliage. Tulip will be right after them. Spring bulbs tend to bloom in very early spring or late winter here, just in time to remind us that there are even more bulbs and bulb like perennials to plant. This is the time of year for planting summer blooming bulbs.

As the name implies, summer blooming bulbs bloom later than spring blooming bulbs. They also get planted later. Unlike spring bulbs, they do not enjoy winter in the garden. (Most spring bulbs are chilled before sale, but would otherwise need winter chill to bloom in spring.) In fact, some summer bulbs are sensitive to frost if they start to grow too early. Types that bloom only once can be planted late to extend bloom, but will need to be watered more carefully after the rain stops.

Dahlia, canna and the old fashioned big white calla are the easiest of summer bulbs. Happy dahlias can last for years, and can be divided if they get big enough. Cannas are even more reliable and more prolific. Big white callas are slow to get started, but can be difficult to contain of once they get established. However, the smaller colorful types are quite demanding, and not so reliable.

Gladiolus and the various lilies are among the most impressive of summer bulbs, but they bloom only once annually, and if not grown in ideal conditions, are unlikely to bloom more than once ever. Lilies want to be watered and fertilized regularly, and grown in rich potting medium. Gladiolus bulbs are typically planted in groups, but only a few in each group will likely regenerate after bloom.

Gladiolus

60203The sword of a gladiator was known as a gladio, and it probably resembled the leaves or floral spikes of gladiolus. These narrow and pointed leaves stand nearly vertical, angling only slightly to the left and right of a single flower stalk that can get as tall as six feet. The floral spike supports several very colorful florets that are arranged to the left and right, but tend to lean toward the front.

The summer bloom can be red, pink, orange, yellow, greenish yellow or white, in bright or pastel hues, and often with multiple colors. Florets bloom upward from the bottom, so lower florets fade before upper florets open. Gladiolus is an excellent cut flower anyway. Taller blooms might need to be staked.

New bulbs should be planted about now, at least four inches deep, and about four or five inches away from each other. Gladiolus want well drained soil and full sun exposure.