Summer Blooming Bulbs

by High Country Gardens

Collection of dahlia blooms
Dahlias are native to Central America and Mexico and love the heat. Shown: Dahlia Cactus Mix

Beautiful Flowers the First Summer

Summer blooming bulbs are a great way to color up your garden. Most bloom their first growing season, many can be used as annuals (in colder climates) and as perennials in mild-winter climates and many are heat lovers, excellent for use in regions with hot, humid summers. In general, these are a versatile group of bulbs where many years of breeding improvements (done primarily in Europe) has created a kaleidoscope of colors and flower forms.


Originally native to Mexico and Central America, these showy flowers love the heat. Dahlias make outstanding cut flowers and I recommend finding a spot in your garden where you can cultivate a number of different varieties for an unending supply of late summer cuts. Dahlia Dark Angel® Dracula is a compact single-flowered variety that is excellent for container gardens and will bloom all summer with its nectar-rich purple-red flowers. Engage and amaze your kids by having them plant some Dinnerplate varieties; their huge flowers can be 8 inches across! Many gardeners are unaware that Dahlias can be successfully overwintered in mild winter areas in zones 8 to 10. But I've seen them do just fine in zones 6 and 7 when mulched heavily with 6" of clean wheat straw mulch to keep the ground from freezing.

Purple Thomas Edison Dinnerplate Dahlia
Dinnerplate Dahlias span up to 8 inches across. Shown: Dinnerplate Dahlia Thomas Edison


These long-lived bulbs can be grown across much of the country, but are at their best in cooler climates. Like peonies, the colder the winters the longer they live. And many of them are quite fragrant. I recommend that the taller lilies be planted in among other shorter perennials to fill in around the base of their tall, lanky stems.


These South African wildflowers have been breed for generations to increase their flower size and color range. While most Gladiolus are perennial in zones 8 to 10, the dwarf hardy Glads are suitable for zones 5, 6 an 7 making a gorgeous display mixed into perennial beds. The taller, less cold hardy varieties make superb, long lasting cut flowers. Plant some future bouquets this spring with a nice mix of tall, large-flowered varieties. 'Purple Flora' and 'Raven' are especially striking with their dark, richly colored flowers.

Canna Lilies

The hotter the better for these sub-tropical beauties. In areas of the country where mid-summer heat and humidity is too much for many flowers, Cannas will thrive. Fast-growing, with vibrant blooms and lush, tropical-looking foliage, by planting Canna Lily bulbs, you’ll quickly get a handsome, 3-4 foot addition to your garden. Canna Lilies will deliver a summer-long show, with huge, spectacular iris-like flowers. Plant them where you want to draw They can be grown in regular flower beds or large containers with enriched soil and regular irrigation. 'Tropicanna' and 'Tropicanna Black' are especially showy grown in pots with their large, showy tiger-striped leaves. Or they are excellent bog plants for those of you with ponds and areas with damp, boggy soil. Water often, as Canna Lilies enjoy moist ground, though constant wetness isn’t necessary. Plant them where you want to draw attention, or use their large size to your advantage and create a dramatic Canna Lily screen.

Orange Canna Lily Bloom
Canna Lilies prefer hot, moist conditions. Shown: Canna Lily Tropicana Black

Calla Lilies

Not to be confused with Canna lilies (above), these South African native plants are unusual and exotically colored. I like to use Calla Lilies in container gardens where their unique flowers contrast vividly with petunias and other common annuals. Pair up nearly black 'Black Forest' with the glowing golden 'Best Gold' for a dramatic potted combination. In the garden, these are vigorous perennials for mild-winter areas (zones 8 to 10) of the southern states where the rainfall is more ample. I've not had much success with them in the ground in arid climates. I think they are best grown in pots in the drier intermountain West. But in coastal areas of California, they are a great, "no-brainer" perennial.

Triteleia (Starflowers)

This genus of native bulbs come to us from the Pacific Northwest. Not well known, these early summer bloomers are easy, long-lived and color-up the garden with their starry flowers in white and shades of blue. Starflowers are a good addition to the xeric (waterwise) garden as they grow well in drier conditions and poorer soils. I've even seen them mixed into beds of cacti!

Stretch your horticultural wings this year and plant some unique summer blooming bulbs. Mixed into container gardens, planted to fill in newly planted perennial beds or as part of your cut flower garden, these flowers are a great way to enjoy quick-to-bloom summer color.

Multi-colored starflower blooms
Starflowers grow well in dry conditions and poorer soils.Shown: Triteleia Mix

Text and Photos by David Salman.

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