Traditional bulbs may wither in the heat of summer, but that is when bulbs in the subtropics really shine. They are useful for adding daring and striking colours and patterns to gardens everywhere; in temperate regions they may be dug up in autumn and replanted in spring, and in warmer climates they may be left in the earth forever as returning perennials. They also make great replacements for anglers in warmer climate zones, who can’t develop typical springtime bulbs such as the crocus or daffodil. The majority of the plants listed here are known as corms, rhizomes and tubers, but they are grouped together as bulbs for simplicity’s sake.
Warning: Flowering bulbs may be toxic if consumed, and these are no exception. Watch plant warnings for pet owners
Impressions Landscape – Style
(Alocasia, Colocasia spp)
If you’re going for a lush and tropical look, develop one of those large-leaved arum relatives known as elephant ear. Think of them as caladiums on steroids, with the heart-shaped leaves on large varieties such as ‘Borneo Giant’ (Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’, zones 9 to 11) reaching up to 12 feet tall. Most types are more modest — at least regarding their dimensions — but they make up for it with eye-popping colors such as the bright, dappled lime-green leaves of ‘Mojito’ (Colocasia ‘Mojito’, zones 7 to 11) or the black kinds of Black Magic (Colocasia ‘Black Magic’, zones 7 to 11).
USDA zones: 7 to 11 (find your zone)
Water and dirt conditions: Tolerant of drought and standing water; flourishes in rich soil with ample moisture
Light requirement: Full shade to sunlight
Mature size: 2 to 12 feet tall
Bloom time: Spring through summer
Planting tips: Give elephant ears lots of room. People from the Southeast United States should avoid planting any elephant ear rising in a drainage ditch, as it’s likely the invasive Colocasia aquatica and will take over your garden.
(Alpinia, Hedychium, Curcuma etc.)
If the exotic blooms of gingers do not get you, their quintessentially tropical-looking foliage will. Plant variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’) because of its green and gold pinstriped leaves, and revel in its shell-like blooms in areas where it seldom freezes.
For instant gratification, plant Curcuma gingers such as Siam tulips (Curcuma alismatifolia, zones 8 to 11) for blooms just one to two months after the leaves appear. Turmeric (Curcuma longa, zones 7b into 11) is also attractive but is most notable for its edible and healthy roots. If you prefer odor, give butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium, zones 7b into 11) an attempt. Its white blooms have a sweet and sexy smell that looks like that of gardenias.
USDA zones: 7b into 11
Water and dirt conditions: Rich, well-drained soil with ample moisture
Light requirement: Full to partial shade
Mature size: Varies; these recorded here usually don’t exceed 5 feet tall
Bloom time: Varies, but usually in summer
Planting tips: If climbing gingers in zones 9 to 11, reduce watering in winter to allow a dormancy period.
There’s an old expression that you can’t kill a crinum, and lots of anglers will attest to that claim, since well-established clumps planted in older gardens have been known to live for years, maybe longer. The crinum that is hardiest to cold is appropriately named the rugged crinum (Crinum bulbispermum, zones 5 to 11); it is worth growing not only for its pink blossoms, but also because of its twisted grayish-green foliage.
‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’, zones 6b into 11) is an old Southern favorite with untidily floppy leaves and spicy, fragrant pink blooms. Gardeners from the tropics are no doubt familiar with the ridiculously large grand crinum (Crinum asiaticum, zones 9 to 11), which reaches 6 feet tall and generates many sizable spidery white flowers.
USDA zones: 6 to 11
Water and dirt requirements: Most crinums tolerate a broad selection of conditions.
Light requirement: Full shade to full sun
Mature size: 1 to 6 feet tall
Bloom time: Varies
Planting tips: Maintaining a crinum is a lot harder than keeping one alive, but they look best when older leaves are removed.
Cannas quickly add height to a garden in mere months, which makes them ideal tropical plants such as temperate climates with shorter summers. Plant them en masse in the back of garden beds to form a tantalizing backdrop or use them singly as thrillers in container plantings. In contemporary garden designs, their minimalist upright leaves fit right in.
Phaison (Canna ‘Phaison’, zones 7b into 11) can also be promoted as Tropicanna and can be pretty difficult to miss with brightly coloured leaves with stripes of orange, purple and deep green. Australia (Canna ‘Australia’, zones 7b to 10) has jet-black leaves and burning-red blossoms.
USDA zones: 7 to 11
Water and dirt conditions: Cannas perform best with rich, well-drained soil and regular watering. Many tolerate standing water.
Light requirement: Partial to full sun
Mature size: readily available in many heights, from 1 to 10 feet tall
Bloom time: Summer through fall
Planting tips: Don’t purchase virused plants with streaked and pale foliage; wrapped leaves are brought on by canna leaf roller and are treated by cutting the affected stalks to the floor.
Other Tropical Bulbs
The bulbs recorded above confident have a good deal of presence in the garden, however if you’re looking for something a bit more down-to-earth, develop some of those smaller standouts.
Blood lily (Haemanthus multiflorus, zones 8b into 11) is perfect for those who think they have seen everything. When you least expect it, June to be exact, you will observe grapefruit-size fireworks going off on your garden once the blooms emerge leafless stalks. The effect is magical.
Rain lilies (Zephyranthes, Habranthus spp, zones 7 to 11) have a similar impact and bloom sporadically throughout the year with trumpet-shape flowers which range from white to yellow and pink.
Caladiums (Caladium bicolor, zones 9b into 11) are quite popular for their harlequin patterns of veins, dapples and spots from green, pink, red and white. To get more blooms, just gouge the growing point of the corms after digging them up.
Peter Raarup Landscape Design
Designing with tropical bulbs. When placing tropical bulbs on your landscape, do not hesitate to pick up a couple of extra plants. After all, these plants do not skimp on the effect, so why do you need them to look like an afterthought? It’s a fact that one caladium poking out of a shade planting might evoke a sense of whimsy, but three planted together for a mound of heart-stopping foliage becomes a focus. Since tropical bulbs do tend to multiply, just one plant only looks unnatural anyway. The sizes of tropical bulbs change considerably, but generally speaking they look best when surrounded by a mass of finely textured plants.
Temperate climates. Everyone can develop tropical bulbs, even if those bulbs spend only a couple of months at the spotlight. Plant them together with spring-blooming bulbs when the days warm up, and they’ll continue the show until the first frost.
Grow them so they get a head start inside in the winter and deliver them back inside if the nights get hitched. It is possible to either water them sparingly through winter or rinse off the dirt and save them , replanting in containers in early spring. Plants with less-developed roots, such as African Irises and heliconias, are great candidates for this therapy.
Digging and keeping tropical bulbs are also straightforward. Wait till the first frost kills the leaves off and lift them out of the floor, taking care to not harm the rhizomes, tubers or corms. Wipe the dirt, let them dry in a dark place and keep them in a container of shredded newspaper, vermiculite or sawdust. Shoe boxes, plastic containers and paper bags all work well. Spray them with a fungicide if wanted and keep them in a cool, dark place until spring, then checking on them occasionally and removing any rotted portions.
Raymond Jungles, Inc..
Hot climates. It might be true that nothing compares to some drift of tulips or even the tiny blooms of crocuses peeking out outside the snow, but there’s nothing quite like tropical bulbs either. A massed planting of tall blue agapanthus blooms or pink-leaved caladiums is truly a sight to behold, and the fleeting beauty of rain lilies, blood lilies and hurricane lilies seems magical enough to provide snowdrops a run for their money.
Assuming the bulbs are hardy in your region, there are a couple really excellent reasons to develop them in the ground indefinitely. First, the majority of them quickly bounce back from drought, harm or even the occasional errant weed trimmer, enabling them to endure on older properties more than the original houses. It’s not uncommon to find clumps of crinums on homesites where the foundations have been left standing!
Tropical bulbs left in the floor to form clumps are also rather impressive looking, and may become your backyard’s greatest asset. If you’re willing to dig some up, they even make good pass-along plants for friends and neighbors.