Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Bulbs for Summer Blooms

The spring issue of ReModel Spokane is available in your favorite doctor's office waiting room, on free publication stands and, I even spotted it at STCU in their reading rack.  My article starts on page 23 - and the stunning photography they added to it made me smile out loud.
Unfortunately, my submission is not on their website, but if you think you will stumble across an issue somewhere (I had to give my copy to my Mom), look for this cover photo:

Or, I have copied the text here, below, and you can just imagine the lovely photos of gladiolus, dahlias and canna.  Enjoy it...then head out to find your spring bulbs.  It's about time to plant!

Spring Forward: Plant Now for Summer Blooms
Here in the Inland Northwest, we enjoy four distinct seasons, but only one real gardening season – which will be upon us in no time.  Right now we’re on the cusp of the joyful renewal of the earth – and soon enough, the arrival of color by way of flowers from the bulbs that were planted in the fall.  They’ve enjoyed the insulation of the snow cover and slept as the rest of the winter garden slept and now they are ready to keep their promise to bloom.  

All bulbs add color, form, texture and size to the garden.  The bulbs whose vibrant flowers we are enjoying now will spend their post-bloom time storing food and energy for next year.  Another type of bulb – more tender - prefers to spend the winter slightly more pampered, and only agree to bloom if planted at specific times in the spring for the summer flowers.  

When speaking of bulbs, the term also encompasses corms, tubers and rhizomes – all plants that have an enlarged food storage system, unlike herbaceous ornamentals that do not store food in order to bloom.  

Flowers that grow from bulbs include tulips, lilies and daffodils – and are generally planted in fall for spring bloom.  Corms include crocus, also planted in fall, and gladiolus – which must be planted in the spring for success here in the Inland Northwest.

Dahlias and begonias grow from tubers, which are swollen, fleshy underground stems covered with buds or “eyes”.  And rhizomes include iris and calla lilies, which grow from horizontal stems covered with nodes.

Spring planted bulbs can be the crowing glory of a summer’s garden – coming into full bloom when the rest of the garden may be winding down for the year.  Start with clean, spot free and firm bulbs and get busy as soon as the threat of frost has passed and the ground has warmed.

You’ll be Glad You Grew Glads
Gladiolus is among the easiest of flowers to grow - soaring from 1 to 5 feet tall in a showy rainbow of colors.  They’ll do well in almost any soil, provided the drainage is good, but do best in a soil that has been amended well with organic material such as compost.
A flower this bright and tall prefers full sun, but would tolerate afternoon shade – make certain they are planted in an area that provides good circulation, away from buildings.  When the soil has warmed sufficiently, plant them 4-6” deep and about the same distance apart from one another and water them well to help them establish.  Plant sets of gladioli every two weeks and you’ll have blooms over a longer period of time.  

Dahlias are no question the queen of the late summer garden – arriving in breathtaking shapes and colors.  Some of the different classifications of dahlias include pompom, formal decorative and cactus – from there on even further classified as giant, large, medium –various classes important to the serious dahlia growers.

Don’t  Dally Putting in Dahlias
Dahlias grow best when receiving at least 6 hours of sun per day – and prefer a sandy loam soil, but will grow successfully in almost any type of garden soil with good drainage.
Here in the Inland Northwest, most dahlia growers put their tubers out the third weekend in May – which generally, although not guaranteed, is past the final frost date for our area.

It is important to stake the dahlia at the time of planting, before the tuber is put in the ground.  The large flowering dahlias would do well with plant stakes reaching 5-6’ for best support of their voluminous flowers to come.  Make sure the tuber is placed 4-6” deep, with the eye on the tuber at least 4” from the stake.  The tuber should be set at a slight angle, with the growth buds at the top.

As the dahlia grows, tie the plant loosely to the stake, and disbud the flowers by removing the 2 side buds, leaving the one in the middle to grow stronger and larger.  Keep them evenly watered, deeply, and don’t allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  Fertilize lightly, but stop once the flowers have begun to form, as it may cause more green growth instead of strong flower and root production.

You Can Grow Canna
And if the dahlia is the queen of the late summer garden, it is joined there by the king – that being the canna plant.  To the uninitiated, it is nearly impossible to believe that something so exotic yet so dependable, can grow in our short Inland Northwest summer.

Also a tuber, the canna wants the same conditions as the others – rich soil, good drainage and plenty of sun.  For the canna, the more heat the better.

Grown strictly as an annual in our area, the large banana-like leaves are reason enough to grow canna.  Growing to the size of boat paddles, the waxy leaves come in various shades of greens, blues and even variegated – off setting the bright yellows, oranges, reds and pinks of the tropical flowers that burst from them.

In the fall, it will be like digging for treasure because the tubers will have doubled and tripled in size below the surface.

That is the downside of spring planted, summer blooming bulbs, corms and tubers – they simply cannot survive our Northwest winters and must be dug from the ground in the fall and stored over if you want to use them the following year.

But if you are a gardener that takes what they can get from these easy to grow flowers, grow them for whatever pleasure you receive.  For however much work you decide to put into any type of gardening, the rewards are plentiful.


  1. "we’re on the cusp of the joyful renewal of the earth" Love the sound of this!!!

  2. Great article! Cathi