Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 20 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners. He speaks around the country at flower shows, master gardener groups and horticultural trade shows on gardening topics from roses to tomatoes.
You don't have to visit the subtropics this year to get a taste of the lush foliage and beautiful flowers. Bring the tropics into your yard this summer by planting some unique tropical bulbs. My favorites are what I call the three Cs; calla lilies, canna lilies and caladium. Each adds not only beautiful flowers to the landscape, but attractive foliage as well.
Gardeners in warm summer and mild winter climates know these tropical bulbs well, but even gardeners in cold climates can enjoy them, too, planted in warm spot in your yard or in a container. Canna lilies are fast growing bulbs that produce up to 5- to 6-foot tall plants with large, banana-like leaves and stalks of colorful flowers. 'Black Night' has stunning, dark red flowers that contrast well with their black foliage. 'Corsica' features delicate, salmon colored flowers with yellow edging. 'Pacific Beauty' jumps out at you with its bright orange colored flowers. If you don't have room in your garden for a tall canna, try some dwarfs. They only grow 2- to 3-feet tall, so fit well in your flower garden or container. 'Golden Lucifer' features yellow flowers with red spots. 'Rhodos' has bright pink flowers that are show stoppers in the garden. 'Madeira' has red flowers with yellow edging.
If you're looking for the tropical feel, but want a low growing plant, try the calla lilies. Calla lily bulbs only grow 1- to 2-feet tall, have attractive spotted foliage, grow well in part shade and produce colorful, cone-shaped flowers for cutting, containers or the perennial border. If you can't decide on the color calla to buy, check out the 'Purple Rain Mix'. This calla lily variety features purple, white, and pink flowering bulbs all in one mix.
If you have a real shady spot, but still want to jump on the tropical bulb bandwagon, think caladiums. These bulbs are grown primarily for their colorful foliage. The plants grow 12- to 18 inches tall and are well-suited to growing under large shrubs, in a shady spot, or in a container. When growing varieties such as 'Rose Bud', that features bright red leaves with green edging and pink centers, you can brighten up even the darkest spot in your flower garden.
Because cannas, callas, and caladiums are all tropical bulbs, wait until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed before planting in spring. Find a spot that's protected from cool winds. For canna lilies, full sun is best. Calla lilies can grow in sun or part shade, while caladiums prefer the shade. Keep the plants well watered and fertilized all summer. In cold climates, cannas and callas may not flower until late summer, but the show is worth the wait. Also, you can enjoy the colorful foliage in spring and summer. In fall, before a frost, dig up and store the bulbs indoors for replanting the following spring.