Shop our year end clearance and SAVE! Shop Now!

Using Summer Bulbs

Summer bulbs take up the slack in the garden after spring’s daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths have faded away. Lilies, dahlias, cannas, caladiums and other summer bulbs are lively, undemanding plants that flourish when the heat is on. They’re right at home in both formal and informal gardens, and they are showy and reliable performers in flower pots and window boxes.

Most summer bulbs are tropical or sub-tropical plants. Here in our latitudes, they are planted once the weather warms up. They spring quickly to life and produce long-lasting flowers or dramatic foliage -- or both -- from early summer until the first frost. Even in areas where the winters are cold and long, summer bulbs can be expected to put on an impressive show.

Summer bulbs are especially well-known for their leafy exuberance, and elephant’s ears, caladiums, and cannas bring a tropical mood with them wherever they are planted. Victorian gardeners planted cannas as centerpieces in their fancy bedding schemes, but their height also makes them a good choice at the back of a flower bed, either in soldierly rows or grouped shoulder-to-shoulder with tall castor bean plants or elephant’s ears. Hummingbirds will find their flowers very quickly.

Piet Oudolf, the renowned Dutch plantsman and garden designer, many of whose naturalistic plantings are inspired by the beauty and diversity of American’s native prairies, often combines summer bulbs, including lilies of all kinds, with ornamental grasses in strikingly original perennial beds. In 10-foot deep flowerbeds at the New York Botanical Garden, Oudolf mixed lilies with purple coneflowers to dramatic effect. He also plants dahlias and gladiolus with fall-blooming sedum, Japanese anemones, and the bottle-brush blooms of fountain grass. His choices are unexpected, and the effects are surprisingly elegant.

Summer bulbs can be planted in spring as soon as it's comfortable to be out in the garden in shirtsleeves. Most need a sunny spot (caladiums and calla lilies are exceptions), but they are not particular about soil, as long as it drains well. If you’re not sure where to place them, plant a row of summer bulbs in the vegetable garden, and harvest the blooms for bouquets all summer long.

Personalize Your Site:

Enter your zip code to:

  • Find your growing zone.
  • See best products for your region.
  • Show accurate product shipping dates.
Clear my Zip Code

Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Several options are available to overwinter a favorite geranium. The first is to cut it back and pot it up as a houseplant for the winter to replant outside in the spring. The second is to pull it up, brush off any clinging soil, and hang it upside down in a cool, humid basement until replanting in spring. Or, you can cut 4-inch lengths of new stem and put them in water or damp vermiculite to root. Once rooted, transfer to individual pots and treat as houseplants.