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Hardy Summer - Flowering Bulbs Getting Noticed

Monthly Grown Your Mind

When thinking about bulbs, one tends to think automatically about Daffodils, Tulips and Crocus.
These are spring-flowering bulbs which are planted in the fall and beautiful in their own right,
but die back before summer and then what? What about SUMMER-flowering bulbs? These are
bulbs planted in the spring and often get by-passed because most people don't even think about
them when planning the garden. This should be easily remedied due to the simple fact that
summer-blooming bulbs are not only gorgeous, but a perfect way to add pockets of color,
height and bulk to any perennial border. With many being hardy to our nation's capital...let's get

There is one thing to watch for and that is to make sure your picks are hardy if you don't want to
have to dig them up in the fall and store them for the winter. Many times you will see a selection of
plants together as summer-flowering bulbs, but are often mixed with non-hardy bulbs to make
more of an impact for the display. Bulbs hardy to Ottawa's Zone 4 are safe to leave in the ground.
Some gardeners may dispute that we can overwinter Zone 5 bulbs but it is not a guarantee
depending on our unpredictable winters. A microclimate, or protected area, would definitely help
increase the success of marginal bulbs. With our climate changing so much lately, I may be
standing here corrected on my zonal choices. As a horticulturalist I am obligated to send out the
warning although I may not take my own advice. Do as I say and not as I do.

Let's get to the nitty-gritty. Summer bulbs need to be classified into two different categories in
order to clarify any misconceptions. There are your typical summer bulbs that do not withstand
our cold winters and end up as slimy, soft spots when left in the ground. For example: Gladiolus,
Colocasia, Canna Lily, Tigradia and Dahlias are the first thing that come to mind when one mentions
summer bulbs. These are some that require indoor winter storage. Then there are hardy summer bulbs that can be planted in spring for summer color and left in the ground for years to come. Some of these include: Alliums, Anemone, Lily-of the-Valley, Crocosmia, Fall Crocus, Foxtail Lily and Asiatic Lily, to mention a few. Although they are classified as geophytes, (a herbaceous plant that has an evolved underground storage organ where it can store water, food and nutrients), some of these are not actually bulbs, but corms, tubers or a rhizome which is what may cause all the confusion.

Summer colors are easily accomplished if you set your mind to it. Filling in areas where spring bulbs have finally died back has never been easier because bulbs take very little space. With the market flooding with new cultivars and varieties every day, color and size is no longer a hindrance. Basically, if you want it... you will eventually find it. Ask your nursery attendant for recommendations to fit your unique style and environment. They will be able to ensure that you get the plants that are hardy to your area. But because they are not mind-readers, be sure to communicate your needs to them first.

Hopefully this list will be of some comfort:


Allium sp.

  • Ornamental onion
  • Zones 3-9
  • Heights from 3 inches to 4 feet
  • Full sun to light shade
  • Drought tolerant


Anemone sylvestris

  • Snowdrop Anemone
  • Zones 3-8
  • Height up to 2 feet
  • Partly shady with moist, well-drained soil


Lilium orientale

  • Oriental lily
  • Zone 4
  • Heights from 2'-5'
  • Full sun to part shade, drought tolerant


Colchicum speciosum

  • Autumn Crocus
  • Zone 4-8
  • 4-8 inches (8-15 cm)
  • Produces foliage in spring, dies back and blooms in late summer- early fall.
  • Corms are poisonous


Eremurus stenophyllus

  • Foxtail Lily
  • 3-5 feet
  • Zone 5-8
  • Full sun with moist, well-drained soil
  • Protected from sun will help tall spikes from bending over.



  • Same common name
  • 35-45 inches (85-115 cm)
  • Zone 5-8
  • Full sun with moist, well drained soil. Will take some drought.
  • Excellent for attracting hummingbirds
  • Long slender leaves and arching habit are great for adding into other plantings.


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