Working their magic on your garden from May through to October, summer flowering bulbs provide a splash of colour even when perennials have begun to fade. Plant them in spring or Autumn, to display in beds or garden planters or to complement other flowers, shrubs and trees.
Planting and tending tips
Healthy purchases: Buy your bulbs as soon as they appear on garden-centre shelves or market stalls. This ensures that they will have less chance of being damaged by poor storage.
- Although the largest bulbs are not guaranteed to produce the best flowers, don't buy bulbs that look unusually small or poorly developed in comparison with the normal-sized bulbs of the species. They may not have grown properly or they may have some type of disease. Choose bulbs that are plump, firm and uniform in appearance. They should not be marked and their skin should not come away easily.
- If gladioli corms are pink because they have lost their papery brown tunic, don't buy them. They have been handled roughly and may be damaged.
The best soil: Most bulbs like light, well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy and has a tendency to become waterlogged in winter, improve it by digging in sand or gravel, then plant the bulbs on a layer of gravel to provide further drainage. You can also plant them in a rock garden covered with gravel.
- Soil that is too light and porous for other plants is ideal for growing bulbs. Plant them on top of a layer of garden compost or well-decomposed organic matter.
Keeping disease at bay:
A light sprinkling of flowers of sulphur before the summer rest period will protect your bulbs from disease and mould. You can also use it before planting - put the bulbs in a paper bag with the powder and shake vigorously. You should be able to buy flowers of sulphur from garden centres and chemists.
Summer hibernation: If you prefer to remove bulbs once their flowers have faded to avoid the sight of yellowing foliage, lift them carefully with a fork, keeping the soil around the bulb.
- Dig a trench in a semi shaded little-used corner of your garden and put a plastic net or wire mesh at the bottom, letting it overlap the ends of the trench.
- Set the bulbs in the trench and cover with soil, leaving the foliage exposed.
- Water thoroughly during dry spells. Once the foliage has shrivelled and faded, the bulbs can be lifted for storing. Simply pull out the net, shake off the soil and remove the dead leaves.
- Dry the cleaned bulbs in a well-ventilated place for a few days, then place them, uncovered, on a bed of sand in shallow boxes.
- Store them in a dry, dark and cool room or garage until replanting in autumn. Never store bulbs that are damp or have dead or damaged skins.
Plant lilies in threes: For a beautiful show from the first year on, plant large lilies in soil enriched with plenty of organic matter such as leaf-mould. Plant them in groups in flat-bottomed holes measuring 50-60cm in diameter. In each hole, first add a handful of coarse sand for drainage then
place three bulbs in a triangle and firm them in. This formation guarantees an attractive arrangement.
To get ahead of the season, start under glass.
Plant summer bulbs early in planters and keep them under glass. They will be ready to transfer to the garden as soon as your spring flowering bulbs have finished.
Gladioli : In April, plant gladioli individually in 10cm planters. Place in a cool, frost-free greenhouse or porch and water well. With in a couple of weeks a green shoot will appear. Make sure they receive plenty of light, and during May you will be able to plant them out in their final position.
Tuberous begonias:: Commonly used in hanging baskets, planters or troughs, begonias con also be started off in April under glass. Put them in their final positions once the spring nights are frost-free.
Freesias: At the end of April, lender bulbs such as freesia or ornithogallum can be planted in planters and given a start in the greenhouse. Move them out into the garden or outdoor planters when all risk of frost has passed.
Dahlias flower all summer. They look lovely in flower beds but also last well as flowers in arrangements.