When a gardener mentions planting bulbs, the first flowers that often come to mind may be daffodils and tulips. We plant these types in our gardens in fall for glorious displays in the spring. But if you are willing to expand your definition of a bulb, you will find a whole new season of beautiful blooms and foliage in what I refer to as summer bulbs. Now technically these plants include true bulbs, along with tuberous roots, corms, and tubers or rhizomes, but it is just simpler to use the blanket term - bulbs.
The plants that grow from summer bulbs will add a tropical touch to your garden. Many varieties have thick fleshy leaves and exotic flowers, which makes sense because most originate from subtropical regions such as South American and South Africa. I like to mix them in with my more traditional annuals and perennials to add a little flair to my flower borders and containers.
Summer bulbs should be planted in late spring or early summer when soil temperatures have warmed to about 55°F. In general they should be planted close to the soil's surface, about 1 to 2 inches deep. Choose a location that has well drained soil, unless they are suited to boggy conditions. One of the nice characteristics about these plants is that many types, such as elephant ears and caladiums, will perform well in partial to full shade.
True to their sub-tropical heritage, these bulbs thrive in heat and humidity, but you can also grow them in northern gardens. The trick is to lift and store them in the fall before the first frost. How you store the bulbs depends on what type of plant it is. Most are lifted from the ground and stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool, dry area.
To find unique varieties of summer bulbs you may have to go through a mail order source. The best time to do this is in the spring. Many mail order sources will offer special deals in late spring, but don't wait too late because sales and shipping often end in June. Summer bulbs will be available at your local nursery from spring through mid-summer.