Tag Archive: Summer Bulbs

  1. Surprise Lilies for Summer and Fall

    Lycoris incarnata JM

    The rosy blooms of Lycoris incarnata almost look candy striped. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Commonly known as “magic lily,” plants in the genus Lycoris are, in fact, much more closely related to amaryllis than to their namesake. But they do bring plenty of magic to the landscape when they open their large funnel-shaped flowers on tall naked stems in mid- to late summer. Several are winter-hardy to boot, creating all sorts of delicious possibilities for gardens in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and warmer. With their showy amaryllis-like flowers and their tolerance of bitter winters and partial shade, these bulbs from East Asia make marvelous (and miraculous) subjects for cold-climate gardens.

    Lycoris longituba JM

    The delicate blooms of Lycoris longituba are pure white. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    The major challenge in growing Lycoris is in finding some to plant in the first place. Unlike their close kin, the daffodils, magic lilies do not take well to dry storage, and purchased bulbs may be reluctant to establish after planting. Additionally, most hardy Lycoris species and hybrids are virtually unavailable from U.S. bulb merchants. This is partly due to their growth cycle, which does not mesh well with the shipping seasons of commercial suppliers.

    Lycoris sprengeri 2 JM

    Lycoris sprengeri has party pink blossoms that appear late in the season. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Hardy Lycoris begin their growing season in early spring, sending up clumps of strappy leaves that suggest daffodil foliage. The leaves wither away in late spring, setting the stage for the floral display to come. In northern U.S. gardens, this is almost always in the form of the lilac-pink blooms of Lycoris squamigera. Large and lovely, the funnel-shaped flowers of this robust magic lily open in clusters on 2-foot stems from late July into August. They are particularly magical in partial shade, where splashes of sunlight can set them aglow. At its best when thrusting through companion plants such as ferns and hostas, Lycoris squamigera multiplies relatively rapidly into lush clumps, and is well suited for naturalizing. A sterile triploid (i.e. with an extra set of chromosomes), it increases solely by division of its bulbs.

    Lycoris squamigera JM

    The classic surprise lily is a favorite old-fashioned summer garden flower. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Far less often seen are a number of other hardy Lycoris, all of which would make prized additions to any garden that can support them. Flower colors include pale silver-pink with lilac-purple midribs (Lycoris incarnata); white with a lemon-yellow throat (Lycoris longituba); lavender-pink with rose-pink streaking (Lycoris sprengeri); pale creamy-yellow (Lycoris x caldwellii); shimmering orchid-pink (Lycoris x haywardii); and orange to salmon-pink (Lycoris sanguinea). Breeders in China, Japan, and elsewhere have crossed these and other species to produce an array of delicious hybrids, including some that are beginning to appear in U.S. catalogs. American gardeners have much to discover in this enchanting genus.

    To create your own garden magic, purchase Lycoris in pots, or as bare-root bulbs in late summer. Plant the bulbs several inches deep in sun to partial shade as soon as possible after receiving them. Although Lycoris squamigera does well in almost any soil type, most other species favor relatively fertile, humus-rich soil (amend excessively heavy or sandy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Fafard Peat Moss. Plants may take a year to fully establish and bloom, but the magic of a Lycoris in full glory is well worth the wait.

  2. Spectacular Summer Flowering Bulbs

    The Orienpet Lily 'Pontiac' is a subdued stunner.

    The Orienpet Lily ‘Pontiac’ is a subdued stunner. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    As perennial favorites, hardy bulbs are unexcelled at providing sudden swaths and splashes of vibrant color, whether in the open garden or in containers. And that goes for summer as well as spring (and fall and winter!).

    Consider the lilies, for example. The voluptuous, richly hued blossoms of these fleshy-bulbed perennials are just the thing for alleviating the dullness that sometimes descends on the post-spring garden. Early summer welcomes the typically flat-faced, upright, freckled blooms of the Asiatic Hybrids, which flower in warm hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, as well as white. Numerous narrow leaves clothe their sturdy, 1- to 4-foot stems. Hundreds of Asiatics have been introduced over the years, including the famed ‘Enchantment’, whose orange, dark-speckled blooms still frequently appear in bouquets.

    Arisaema ciliatum

    Arisaema ciliatum has both fantastic flowers and foliage.

    Arriving somewhat later, the Oriental Hybrids carry the delicious fragrance and rosy-or-white, purple-flecked, often gold-emblazoned coloration of their two primary parents, Lilium speciosum and Lilium auratum. The large, waxy, bowl-shaped flowers with slightly backswept petals open on 2- to 4-foot stems, which are rather sparsely set with relatively broad, green to blue-green leaves. Nodding to outfacing flowers are the rule, but some cultivars have semi-erect blooms (including rose-red, white-edged ‘Stargazer’).

    Blooming alongside the Oriental lilies (but usually above them, on 4- to 6-foot stems), Trumpet Hybrids are noted and named for their huge, spicy-scented, funnel-shaped blooms. Notable selections include the African Queen Strain, which flowers in various shades of cantaloupe-orange. Prone to toppling because of their colossal proportions, Trumpets often need staking (or a sheltered position) to keep them upright. In recent years, the Trumpets have been interbred with the Oriental Hybrids to create a popular new class of showy-flowered hybrids, the Orienpets, which add to their usefulness by having flop-resistant stems.

    Among the many Lilium species well worth growing are Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon) – which has parented some beautiful hybrids of its own – and Eastern North American natives such as Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum).

    Lilium 'Ladylike' JaKMPM

    The colorful Asiatic lily ‘Ladylike’ is in warm hues of red, gold and pink. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Whether species or hybrid, most lilies do best in full to partial sun and a fertile, humus-rich soil. Or grow them in deep containers fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend. Unfortunately, all lilies have two potentially mortal enemies: viruses and the dreaded red lily beetle. Many hybrids and species shrug off viruses, but all are red-lily-beetle-susceptible, and any lily planting in a beetle-infested area will need protection, either by hand-picking or by spraying. Releases of parasitic wasps in Rhode Island have resulted in dramatic local reductions of red lily beetle numbers, so there’s hope that this bête rouge will soon make its exit.

    Lovely and varied as they are, lilies are far from the only valuable hardy summer bulbs. Other worthies include:

    Crocosmia hybrids, with long, curving midsummer spikes of dazzling, often fiery-hued blooms that attract hummingbirds. Although hailing from southern Africa, these sun-loving perennials include a few hybrids hardy to USDA Zone 5 (such as the smoldering orange-red ‘Lucifer’). Plant their crocus-like corms in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.

    Allium obliquum

    The pale chartreuse-yellow drumsticks of Allium obliquum appear in early summer.

    Several species of Lycoris, East Asian bulbs which bear clusters of fragrant amaryllis-like blooms on tall, naked stems that magically arise in mid- to late summer. Far too rarely seen in gardens or catalogs, hardy Lycoris are most often represented by the lilac-pink-flowered Lycoris squamigera. Other showy hardy species include gold-flowered Lycoris chinensis; creamy-yellow Lycoris caldwellii; white Lycoris longituba; and white, rose-striped Lycoris incarnata. All produce strap-shaped leaves in spring, which die back months before the flowers appear. Hardy Lycoris remain almost unknown in American gardens, despite numbering among the most beautiful summer-blooming perennials. Their narcissus-like, fleshy-rooted bulbs store poorly, contributing to their obscurity. Purchase freshly dug or container-grown bulbs, and plant them in good soil in full sun or light shade.

    Numerous East-Asian species of Arisaema, the genus that also includes Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Their hooded inflorescences range from bizarre to beautiful, and their spoked or lobed, compound leaves are often equally remarkable, and sometimes gargantuan. Perhaps the queen of the tribe is Arisaema candidissimum, which in early summer sends up a large, ivory-white, green-streaked hood surmounted by an enormous, broadly three-lobed leaf. The flowers cast a faint, sweet scent. These Asian Jacks tend to want more sun than the native, and less winter moisture. Mark the places where you plant their tubers; they may not break ground until late June.

    A host of ornamental onions. In most cases, summer-blooming alliums grow from slender, scallion-like bulbs and have persistent, grassy leaves (unlike the early-dormant spring-blooming species). Lovely but little-known summer alliums abound, including Allium ramosum, a white-flowered beauty which blooms earlier and self-sows much less rampantly than the otherwise similar garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); Allium togashii, an August-blooming pixie with bright lilac-pink heads; and the elfin, blue-flowered Allium sikkimense.