In the fall, when the soil starts to cool down, we plant bulbs like tulips and daffodils. It’s a ritual as old as temperate ornamental horticulture and it’s pretty straightforward. What we put in the ground from October to late November are, fairly obviously, bulbs. They go through a chilling period when they set roots (the flowers are already formed inside the bulb) and in the spring and early summer they elongate and flower.
But these days, those bulbs are beginning to fade and that’s our signal that it’s time to plant our summer flowering bulbs.
This, however, is where I get into trouble.
Somewhere along the way, some marketing people seem to have gotten together and decided that they could promote a wide range of plant material that consist of fleshy roots, corms, tubers and rhizomes and they called them summer bulbs. In fact, many of them fit the definition of geophytes, but you’d be very hard-pressed to find any that fit the old gardener’s image of a bulb—a tulip, daffodil, crocus and the like. I think the ridiculousness of the whole thing really hit me when I saw the fleshy rooted, clump forming daylilies catalogued as bulbs.
Whatever they are called, this is the time of year when we need to get them into the ground. In fact, many gardeners get a jump on the season by planting some of these “bulbs” indoors in pots in early March to get larger plants or to break the dormancy of tropical bulbs such as the