12 Bulbs to Plant in the Spring for Showstopping Summer Blooms
Keep gardens, flower beds, and containers sizzling with dramatic abundance through summer’s heat with these colorful and impressive summer bulbs.
Add drama to flower beds and patio containers with colorful summer flowering bulbs.
Depending on your planting zone, some summer flower bulbs may require a little more work than the typical spring bulb because they are tender perennials that won’t survive freezing temperatures. If you want them to bloom again next summer, you’ll have to dig them up in the fall and store them through the winter until spring, which is when to plant summer bulbs.
Summer blooming bulbs—including corms, rhizomes, and tubers—are worth the trouble. They’re fast growers that provide color, fragrance, or texture to the midsummer/early autumn garden when other flowers are done blooming or look a little leggy.
1. Gladiola (Gladiolus)
Glads, aka sword lilies, are great for adding height to the garden—and to flower arrangements. Blooms of 3 inches (minis) to 5 inches (giants) grow in columns on upright plants reaching 2 to 5 feet tall. Taller varieties benefit from staking. Plant the corms in well-draining soil in sunny locations once danger of frost has passed in the spring. The flowers are hardy in Zones 8 and higher, but in northern zones, gardeners have to dig them up in fall after the first frost. In between, they’ll produce flowers in colors ranging from white, pink, red, yellow, lavender to deep purple, burgundy, and some multi-color varieties.
Dahlias exhibit extensive variety, from the little 2-inch “lollipop” pompoms to giant 15-inch “dinner plate” blooms in a wide selection of vibrant colors. Shapes mimic the flower’s relatives, daisies, chrysanthemums, and zinnias. Colors cover the spectrum of the rainbow. Blooms start appearing in midsummer and last until frost. Many varieties grow 4 to 5 feet tall. Hardy in Zones 8 and above, Dahlia tubers should be planted when soil is warm in northern climes. They like full sun, well-draining soil, and protection from wind. They make excellent cut flowers.
A favorite for their intense, sweet fragrance, freesias grow 12 to 24 inches high, producing arching stems with sprays of trumpet-shaped flowers that face upward. They can benefit from staking due to their tendency to “flop” over. Sequential blooming ensures flowers for 6 weeks or more. Jewel-tone colors include white, yellow, orange, scarlet, pink, royal blue, lavender, and bicolor. They come in single- or double-petaled flowers. Plant these summer-flowering bulbs full sun and well-draining soil when danger of frost has passed. They’re hardy in Zones 9 and 10.
4. Lily (Lilium)
There are several kinds of lily: Asiatic, Oriental, Border, Orienpet, Double, Longiflorum (Easter lilies), some of which are fragrant. Large, showy flowers bloom on erect stems with narrow leaves. Lilies like to have their “head in the sun, their feet in the shade.” Their roots like to be cool and planted in well-draining soil. This bulb is hardy to Zone 4. Asiatic lilies come in numerous vivid colors and bloom in early summer. Oriental lilies bloom later, but are fragrant. Lilies are toxic to cats.
Also called Canna lilies, these towering, tropical-looking plants can easily grow 8 feet or more, creating a screen for your yard or garden. Pollinators love their lily-shaped flowers in red, orange, or yellow. Foliage is usually green, but can be maroon, bronze, or variegated. Plant these rhizomes in full sun. While they prefer well-draining soil, they also do well as a bog plant in water gardens. They thrive in the heat of high summer and will bloom until hard frost. Plant them in spring when the soil is warm.
6. Elephant Ear (Colocasia, Alocasia, Xanthosoma)
If you want to make a big statement in your garden, plant an Elephant Ear, so named for its massive foliage size, with leaves up to 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. Whether used as a backdrop for other plantings or as a specimen plant, the Elephant Ear draws attention. These garden giants that come as bulbs, corms, or tubers, depending on the species, prefer partial shade but can tolerate full sun. Plant large tubers in rich, moist soil or in a bog garden after danger of frost has passed and bring them in for the winter in areas colder than Zone 8. They are toxic to animals and humans.
Brighten up a shady area of your garden with cheerful begonias. With more than 2,000 species, there’s a Begonia for everyone. Suited to containers or beds that are protected from the strong afternoon sun, plant tubers in well-draining soil; waterlogged soil can kill them. Available in bright red, pink, coral, yellow, and orange, they typically have large flowers on either green or bronze foliage. Some cascade, and some are upright. Most remain compact, making them an excellent choice for beds, borders, and containers. These prolific bloomers will last until frost.
8. Caladium (Caladium bicolor)
Who needs flowers to add color to a shady or semi-shady garden? Caladium grow to about 18 to 24 inches tall and exhibit dazzling patterned blends of green, white, pink, and red on their large heart-shaped or lance-shaped leaves that can grow 12 inches long. Hardy in Zones 9 to 11, these tubers should be planted in spring in northern climates and dug after the first frost in the fall. They are toxic if ingested.
Crocosmia features sprays of small trumpet-shaped flowers in fiery scarlet, red, orange, and yellow that bloom for 5 to 8 weeks—starting in mid- to late summer—on slender, strap-like leaves. For best flowering, plant the corms in full sun, except in hot regions, where semi-shade will benefit them. A favorite of pollinators, they are deer resistant. Growing to be 3 to 4 feet tall, with a spread of 12 to 18 inches, they make an impact when planted en masse, as a focal point, or scattered around to look naturalized in the garden. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9, they’ll need to be dug up in the fall in northern zones. The corms will need to be divided every few years.
10. Naked Lady (Amaryllis belladonna)
Naked Lady, aka Surprise Lily, Resurrection Lily, Magic Lily, or Jersey Lily, is a fun addition to the garden because of the flower stems’ sudden appearance, sans foliage, in mid-August. After their spring foliage has died back, stalks reaching heights of 2 to 3 feet arise, producing pale pink lily-shaped flowers that are fragrant. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10 (although commonly grown as a perennial as far north as Zone 4), Naked Ladies do best in full sun with well-draining soil. Deer resistant and drought tolerant, they are toxic to animals and humans. Still, they add a delightful surprise in the garden each summer, and also make good cut flowers.
11. Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
The elegant calla lily in classic, creamy white is a favorite for bridal bouquets, but it also comes in yellow, orange, pink, rose, lavender, and dark maroon. In contrast to the simple lines of its flowers, the calla’s sword-shaped foliage features white spots, making it a plant of interest in the garden. The rhizome should be planted in well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Hardy in Zones 8 to 10, it grows 1 to 2 feet tall and blooms from midsummer to early fall for about 3 to 8 weeks. Calla lily is great in containers and as a specimen plant.
12. Liatris (Liatris spicata)
From small corms grow tall stalks of lavender-headed Liatris, also known as Blazing Star and Gayfeather. Hardy in Zones 3 to 9, Liatris blooms from summer to early fall, creating a wispy backdrop for smaller plants. Reaching heights of 2 to 4 feet tall, it features bottlebrush-shaped flower heads that produce tiny star-like blossoms. Grass-like leaves stay closer to the ground, letting the spires take the spotlight. Plant in well-draining soil and full sun. These versatile beauties are a great addition to both cottage and rock gardens.