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Bulbs to plant now

Transform your backyard into a lush, almost tropical landscape

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Don’t despair if you didn’t get your bulbs in the ground last fall. It’s not too late to plant summer bulbs that will add exotic colour, fragrance, and atmosphere to your garden and deck for the summer, or in your home all year.

These bulbs are designated summer because they can’t survive frosts and winter freezes. Gardeners must dig them up in autumn or bring their containers inside.

You are probably familiar with dahlias, begonias, and gladioli, but there are many less familiar flowers and leaves that make a great show. You can buy summer bulbs or plants that are already started in pots. Give bulbs a head start by potting up them in April and setting them outside in containers or in the ground after the last frost.

When the season is over, summer bulbs require action after the first light frost in the fall, or when the foliage starts to die back.

You can leave them in the soil outside where cold temperatures will likely kill them; bring containers in to become houseplants, or save your bulbs. To save bulbs, dig them up and dry in the sun, or inside in a warm, dry spot. Once dry, cut the leaves just above the bulb or corm, and store bulbs in a cool, dry place for the winter.

For sweet, sun drenched tropical island fragrance, try:

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)
This night-blooming plant features beautiful spikes of fragrant, waxy flowers, usually in shades of pink and white. It’s grown worldwide for its intoxicating scent. Tuberose is also used in perfumes and added to Hawaiian leis.

To grow successfully, tuberose needs at least six hours a day of natural sun or a plant light. The soil must drain well or the bulbs will rot. Apply a balanced fertilizer every six weeks in summer. The blooms make a lovely cut flower and you will need only one or two spikes to scent a room.

Peacock orchid (Acidanthera)
My nose was the first to notice these tiny corms blooming in my garden.

A relative of gladiolus, its flowers are similarly shaped, but appear one to a stem. The plant has white flowers with maroon centers, and long slender green leaves. This medium-sized plant makes a better show in masses, and provides more scent.

In our northern location, Peacock orchids need lots of hot sun, especially in the afternoon. The more sun, the more fragrance. Keep soil moist, but not wet. Plant it where it will not receive a lot of wind. An extra bonus–deer dislike them.

Freesia is the star of many florists’ bouquets because of its fragrant funnel-shaped flowers in colours ranging from white to yellow, pink, red, and blue-mauve. Hand creams and candles often feature its scent.

Grow these corms in morning sun or light shade. Use compost enriched soil to avoid extra fertilizing, and ensure it drains well.

If you prefer lush, unusual foliage, try:

Elephant’s ear (Xanthosoma)
While it does flower, gardeners grow this plant for its large leaves.

The plant grow from a corm, and in the tropics can grow over two metres tall, however about one metre is more common in Atlantic Canada.

Still, the leaves are large and impressive. The heart-shaped leaves range in colour from dark green to golden-chartreuse and grow over a half metre long. This plant is often described as stunning and architectural.

It grows best in warm, humid areas, with dappled shade or morning sun. Elephant’s ear is a heavy feeder so apply liquid fertilizer regularly.

Canna lily (Canna Tropicana)
Though not true lilies, these plants grow easily and flower readily, but its immense paddle-shaped leaves make the biggest impression.

Depending on the variety, leaves may be solid green, maroon, bronze, or striped in a variety of those colours. Its flowers resemble the shape of an iris blooming above the foliage in pink, red, orange, or yellow. The largest varieties can grow to nearly two metres tall.

Cannas prefer full sun and rich, moist-to-wet soil, and can even grow in water gardens. Feed it in spring and summer with a balanced fertilizer. A single plant can be a centerpiece in a garden bed, but a mass of them creates a tropical feel.

Angel wings (Caladium)
This foliage plant is almost prettier than flowers, with red, white, green, or pink leaves, or a combination. Angel wings can grow to 75 centimetres tall, depending on the variety.

This plant thrives in moist soil and light shade. Watering and fertilizing regularly will keep the Caladium happy and vigorous from the last frost in spring to the first frost in autumn.

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