Spring is the time to plant summer bulbs, so here are must-have summer stunners that, with a little care, will delight year after year.

BTW, we’re using the term “bulb” loosely because some of our selections grow from corms, bulb-like tuberous roots and rhizomes that are planted underground. But they’re all gorgeous, bloom from summer to fall, must be dug up and stored for winter, and multiply on their own.

Lily (Lilium)

Lily

Credit: Tall Clover Farm

These perennials, grown from fleshy bulbs with overlapping scales, provide an explosion of color and fragrance in your garden. Their biggest drawback is that deer love to chow down on lilies and can quickly destroy your crop.

To learn how to keep deer out of your garden, check out our story on deer repellants.

The most popular lily cultivars are Asiatic and Oriental — they have big, brilliant flowers. L.A. Lily hybrids, with their pronounced trumpet shape and warm blossom colors, are other favorites.

Lilies love well-drained soil; don’t even think about planting them in clay. If your soil isn’t up to snuff, don’t bother amending it. Instead, plant lilies in raised beds.

Caladium

Caladium

Credit: Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums

Caladiums are a tropical American natives that are grown from corms. The mature plant has arrow-shaped foliage, typically in combinations of red, white, and pink. Most plants grow to about 2 feet tall, but elephant ear caladiums can stretch to 7 feet, making them favorites of kid gardeners.

Caladiums grow best in temperatures over 80 degrees F, and in gardens that receive morning sun and afternoon shade. They’re fast growers, so you can plant caladiums in colder zones in early summer (instead of spring) and still enjoy foliage for the rest of the season. If you grow caladiums in containers, bring them inside before the first frost, and enjoy them all winter.

Dahlia

Dahlia

Credit: CoolTropicalPlants.com

Dahlia are bushy beauties that grow from tuberous roots that look like brown carrots. They’re summer garden favorites because they come in many sizes and colors (“doubles” have two colors on each bloom), and they’ll bloom prolifically until the first frost.

Dahlias need a sunny spot in your garden, and they like to eat well. Before planting, enrich the soil with compost, rotted manure, or bone meal. Large varieties are top-heavy, so support stems with garden stakes.

Canna

Canna

Credit: The Tightwad Gardener

Canna pack a one-two punch in your flower garden: Foliage is lush and multicolored, and blooms are tall and vibrant — real scene-stealers.

Canna grows from rhizomes, underground stems that send out roots and shoots. Loosen soil 1 foot deep and around a 6-inch hole where you’ll place the rhizome horizontally. Cover with 2 to 4 inches of mulch (canna likes moisture), and stake stems to keep the plant upright.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

Credit: DeepRootsAtHome.com

No cutting garden is complete without gladiolus, a tall stalk covered with vibrant, showy blooms. Blossoms are deep scarlet, purple, yellow, and others are variegated — pink with yellow, red, with white. They look lovely in a tall vase or in back of your garden, where they can look down on less-magnificent displays.

Considering its beauty, the gladiolus is no diva. It grows in any well-drained soil, and in sun or partial shade. In the fall, work manure or shredded leaves into the soil to give the plants some extra nutrients.

In fall or spring, rotate gladiolus corms to different spots in your garden to prevent them from exhausting the nutrients in the soil. This helps them stay healthy and resist pest damage from thrips — tiny sucking insects that like gladioli almost as much as you will.

Summer Bulb Shopping Tips


National retail chains often sell their summer bulb stock at the same time across the country, even though the spring planting season can be weeks apart in different zones. Consequently, bulbs can dry out or rot before you get them in the ground.

William Miller, a Cornell University horticulture professor, says a healthy summer bulb should be:

  • Plump
  • Firm
  • Without mold
  • Without shoots or sprouts

Tuberous roots should be pliable, not brittle or rubbery. Rhizomes should look plump, not withered.