Nobody puts these babies in a corner

Planted in spring, sultry sirens will be stopping traffic in the summer

February 25, 2007|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

Spring-planted bulbs, rhizomes and corms are the flash and glamour of the garden.

Available in an eye-blasting array of colors, sizes and forms, they range from the elegant through the glitzy right up to Jurassic Park escapees like the bat flower (Tacca chanterieri).

"Some are so unusual you always get a `What is that?' from friends and neighbors," says Dotti Schultz, catalog manager of McClure & Zimmerman in Randolph, Wis.

In addition to their "wow" factor, some keep going all summer.

"The show is phenomenal," says Cindy King, horticulturist at Kingstown Farm, Home, and Garden Center in Chestertown. "Some, like gladiolus, have a [finite] blooming period but others, like dahlias - if you deadhead - can go right up to frost."

There's devil's tongue (Amorphophallus konjac), fragrant, cornucopia-bloomed angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) and elephant-eared Colocasia, with leaves the size of serving platters.

There are flamboyant cannas, painted caladiums, a host of frothy begonias and cyclamen, Dutch iris, majestic foxtail lily (Eremurus) also known as desert candle, elegant calla lily (Zantedeschia), peacock orchid (Acidanthera), glory lily (Gloriosa), Aztec lily (Sprekelia), African corn lily (Ixia), heavenly scented tuberose (Polianthes), Ranunculus and more.

Additionally, spring-planted bulbs lend themselves to a variety of uses.

You can tuck big dahlias, which can grow 5 feet tall with blooms 12 inches across, into a quiet, sunny spot for dramatic effect.

Fill a by-the-road bed with cannas for drive-by splash.

Back bright, shade-tolerant annuals with the huge midnight purple leaves of `Black Magic' elephant ears (Colocasia `Black Magic') for startling contrast. Potted ranunculus, begonia and calla lilies can become bold - and movable - accents.

"The shorter dahlias are great for containers," says Schultz. "They're like little balls of bloom and they bloom heavily."

Not surprisingly, many of these spring-planted showstoppers are also divas.

"Most are tender perennials that need to be dug up and stored for the winter," says Sean Henderson, hard-goods manager at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville.

After digging at the end of the season, bulbs need to be air-dried thoroughly, then stored in a dry place (cellar or semi-heated garage or porch) at 40 degrees or above. King keeps hers in the cellar in a bushel basket of peat moss.

"Then I put a coating of Sevin dust on the top to prevent insects," she says.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria), foxtail lily (also known as desert candle) and blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis) are among the hardy exceptions to the dig-it-up rule.

Others, such as gladiolus, Dutch iris and cannas, whose hardiness is on the edge of our Zone 6-7, can occasionally make it through a mild winter outside if they are in a very protected south-facing spot.

Though most spring planted bulbs don't attract pests, squirrels can be an occasional problem. Organic scent repellents usually put off potential foragers.

"Spray hot pepper spray on the bulb as you plant it," suggests Henderson, "and then again after the foliage starts emerging."

Wait to plant until the ground is about 55 degrees or better - the end of April or early May in Maryland.

Spring bulbs in containers

Almost any spring-planted bulbs will thrive in a container. They require good drainage, which means sufficient holes at the pot's bottom and soil that doesn't compact. Use a good potting soil with added fertilizer and moisture-retentive particles. For unfertilized potting soil, Sean Henderson of Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville recommends adding Bulbtone.

"It's a good granular fertilizer and has lots of organic material," he says.

Keep them inside until nights stay above 50 degrees F - pots are slightly more susceptible to cold, heat and drying out than beds. Inside, keep light requirements in mind. Begonias love a bright room but not direct sunlight. Others need direct sun.

"The [sun-lovers] do best with at least six hours of full sun, preferably mid-day or afternoon when it's a little stronger," says Henderson.

Potted spring bulbs can stay outside all summer, but haul them in before frost. Most need a dormant period, so store them under the same conditions as dug bulbs.

"Once they get established, they divide very well and go for years," says Cindy King of Kingstown Farm, Home, and Garden Center in Chestertown.


Kingstown Farm, Home, and Garden Center

7121 Church Hill Road

Chestertown 21620


Behnke Nurseries

11300 Baltimore Ave.

Beltsville 20705


Wayside Gardens/Park Seed Co.

1 Garden Lane

Hodges, SC 29695-0001


River Hill Garden Center

12165 Clarksville Pike

Clarksville 21029


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