Louisiana’s Best: Summer bulbs

Crinums are classic summer-blooming bulbs. Photo by Kathie Rowell

If you automatically think spring when you hear the word “bulb,” it’s time to broaden your horizons. While it’s true many of the bulbs we are most familiar with bloom in spring, some do their thing after the heat sets in.

Here’s a look at bulbs that perform well in our sultry summers, as recommended by retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins:

  • Surprise lilies : Also known as naked ladies because they send up flowering stems before they sprout foliage, these frilly flowers bloom in July. Lycoris squamigera  is a rosy pink and Lycoris incarnata, also called the peppermint lily, has darker pink stripes down each petal. They are related to the red fall spider lily.
  • Philippine lily: Also known as the Formosa lily, this fragrant flower looks like an Easter lily, but blooms in mid- to late summer.  The stalks can reach more than 5 feet tall and produce a dozen or more white, trumpet-shaped flowers. Let it dry in place and the seeds will drop to the ground and sprout, but it will probably take a couple of years for them to bloom.
  • Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies: Like their name implies, you won’t see these beautiful star-shaped white, pink or yellow flowers until after a good rain. “They are a terrific choice to edge a bed with because they are fast reproducers and the foliage stays a lovely green year-round,” Denyse said. “They are such a joy because we suffer so much with hot, droughty spells in the South.  Walk outside the day after a rain and you’ll find that rain lilies are celebrating just as much as we are.”

  • Crinums: Known as the queen of the summer garden, crinums come in a multitude of varieties so you’re sure to find one that blooms just about any time from spring to fall. They’re big, tough, beautiful and often fragrant. Local crinum lover Donna Shope fell in love with them after reading a magazine article. “Of course I had seen crinums all my life, but I hadn’t SEEN them,” Donna said. “I started noticing them everywhere.  My cousin Debby dug crinums from our grandmother’s place.  I thought I remembered every inch of that yard but I swear I never noticed the crinums. As to favorites, Powellii Album is a favorite with lovely white trumpets and a long bloom season in the spring. Ellen Bosanquet is a readily available summer bloomer.  Deep pink/red blooms.  Elizabeth Traub is probably a little better since it is similar in color and bloom time but is slightly larger and more likely to rebloom if conditions are good.  By good conditions I mean rain. My most reliable fall bloomer is a digweedii with an open flower and light pink stripe.  … Less easily found favorites would include White Queen and Super Ellen. White Queen is a beautiful spring bloomer with white trumpets that are curled around the edges.  The flowers dangle like bells.   Super Ellen is very large with deep pink/red trumpets. The scapes can be 6 feet though mine have never been over 5 and half feet. It blooms spring, summer and fall when conditions are good.  Again, I mean rain.  Crinums can act very much like rain lilies.”

Interested in adding one or more of these to your garden? Denyse has some advice:

“The most important thing to know about tropical bulbs is that they are not great mail order bulbs,” she said. “They have a pretty short shelf life and are best obtained freshly dug or potted.”

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