A garden filled with flowering bulbs can be a joy for 100 years. I would know. I never met one of my grandmothers, mother of 13 children who lived a short life on a subsistence farm to which she arrived in covered wagon in 1910. But my grandmother planted an acre of flowering bulbs as her statement about the world. Even without care for decades, long after the homestead was abandoned, many of those bulbs continue to produce blooms in 2020.
Bulbs are the easiest way to add color and beauty to flower beds, yards, woodland and prairie landscapes, and home gardens. There is no need to fuss with germinating seeds. If you are willing to treat bulbs as annual plants you plant every year, there is minimal need for fertilizer. And as my grandmother’s 110-year-old garden attests, many bulbing flowers thrive in neglect.
With a few exceptions we will cover in this article, flowering plants grown from bulbs usually thrive in neutral (pH 7.0) to mildly acidic (pH 5.5) soil. All bulbs need good drainage. Most bulb flowers require steady moisture during their growing season. Flowers grown from bulbs are at risk from gophers, moles, voles, mice, armadillos, and other animals that feed on them, as well as snails and slugs, but other insect pests are seldom problems.
Winter hardiness requirements are described in terms of USDA hardiness zones. Sometimes you will need to know the botanical name of the plant to make sure you are getting the right bulb at the garden center. Botanical names are listed below each common name.
Most gardeners organize their bulb beds by seasons. In this article, we’ll take a look at the prettiest bulb flowers for spring, the prettiest bulb flowers for summer, and a few surprising bulb flowers for fall and winter. We’ll start with bulbs that flower in spring.
Table of Contents
- Chionodoxa, also known as Glory of the Snow
- Leucojum, also known as Spring Snowflake Flower
- Lily of the Valley
- Scilla, also known as Squill
- Winter Aconite
- Acidanthera, also known as Abyssinian Gladiolus
- Agapanthus, also known as African Lily and Lily of the Nile
- Caladium, also known as Elephant’s Ear
- Camassia, also known Casamas, Quamash, Indian Hyacinth, and Wild Hyacinth
- Eremurus, also known as Desert Lily and Foxtail Lily
- Hymenocallis, also known as Spider Lily
- Tigridia, also known as Peacock Flower and Mexican Shelfllower
- Tuberous Begonia
- Autumn Crocus
- Canna Lily
- Chilly Lily, also known as Rain Lily and Texas Tulip
- Colchicum, also known as Naked Lady
- Nerine, also known as Guernsey lily, Jersey lily, or spider lily
Chionodoxa, also known as Glory of the Snow
This hardy member of the asparagus family is famous for blooming through melting snow. If planted under deciduous trees, it will complete its annual cycle of growth before the tree’s leaves come out. It’s an unusually robust plant that thrives on neglect in all kinds of soils. A small stand of chionodoxa my grandmother planted before 1940 was still blooming every spring after 2018.
(Crocus sativus L.)
Crocuses are among the very first bulb flowers to bloom in the spring. In cold-winter locations, it’s not unusual to see crocuses blooming in the late winter snow. They are rabbit- and deer-resistant, and very well suited to mass plantings.
There is also a species of crocus that blooms in the fall, producing saffron — but if you want to produce your own saffron, you will have to be very patient. It takes the stamens from 3,000 flowers to make an ounce of the spice.
The secret to success with crocuses that pop up in your lawn is not to mow them down before they have had a chance to store a year’s energy in their bulbs and their foliage has died. You can plant crocuses in almost any soil and in almost any location, except in dense shade or under the eaves of buildings without gutters.
Crocus bulbs should be planted at a depth of 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb 6 to 8 weeks before the first hard freeze of the fall for late-winter and early-spring bloom.
(Narcissus poeticus. L.)
If you are looking for a bulb you can plant in masse without having protected your spring flowers from hungry deer, daffodils are for you. Some gardeners plant as many as 20,000 bulbs of this harbinger of spring for a massive floral display featuring daffodils front and center. Daffodils produce “daughter” bulbs attached to the main bulb that will gradually fill in a mass planting over a few years without any extra work by the gardener.
Most daffodils prefer neutral to slightly acidic soils, but there are a few varieties that like alkalinity, so inquire at the garden shop when you are buying the bulbs. All daffodils are subject to rot when they are kept too wet, so be sure to plant them in a well-drained location. Plant daffodils at a depth 1-1/2 times their height if the ground does not freeze where you live but at a depth of 5 times their height if you live in a place where the ground freezes in winter.
In the Middle East, the hyacinth is a symbol of spring and rebirth. Hyacinths are a popular features of spring bulb plantings and a favorite for forcing indoors all year-round. The common hyacinth has a single spike of fragrant blue, violet, pink, white, red, or yellow flowers that last for days and sometimes weeks.
All hyacinths need indirect sunlight and good drainage. The plant is toxic and should be handled only when wearing gloves.
Leucojum, also known as Spring Snowflake Flower
(Leucojum aestivum L. and Leucojum vernum L.)
Here is a beautiful but tough garden plant for wet, clay soils. Leucojum grows in full sun or semi-shade. Plant leucojum in your garden for late spring bloom.
Lily of the Valley
(Convolaria majalis L.)
Lilies of the valley are cool-climate plants that bear beautiful stalks of white flowers in the spring. They prefer silty or sandy soil, and unlike most other bulb flowers, they thrive at a higher, alkaline pH of 8 to 8.5. All parts of the plant are poisonous to pets and people. Consuming the red berries can cause a drastic slowing of heart rate requiring immediate medical treatment.
The Muscari are a group of about a dozen plants more commonly known as bluebells (or bluebonnets in the English-speaking world outside of the United States, although in the United States bluebonnet are small lupines native to the Southwest).
Muscari provides a dependable show in late spring. In well-drained, sandy soils Muscari will naturalize and multiply to take over a landscape over the course of a few years. They grow in sun or in light shade and require little feeding or watering in the summer. Don’t try to grow them from seeds. The seeds can cause severe skin irritation.
Scilla, also known as Squill
These delicate alpine plants provide some of the first blooms of spring. They need to be placed in shaded locations that are moist but not waterlogged. Treating them as an annual provides reliable bloom, but allowing them to naturalize under trees provides a more interesting early spring display.
(Tulipa species, there are about 75 species of tulips)
Many gardeners regard brightly colored tulips as the jewel of the early spring garden. There’s a tulip for every garden setting. There are small Asian tulips that can be integrated into woodland landscapes, and there are gigantic hybridized tulips that dominate formal plantings. Every tulip bears a single flower on a stem surrounded by long, dark-green leaves.
Although tulips are perennials that come back from their bulbs every year, many gardeners choose to guarantee healthy flowering by planting fresh bulbs every fall, before the ground freezes. In climates warmer than Hardiness Zone 7 or 8, tulips won’t survive summer heat and must be replanted every year. Tulips prefer a location with full or at least afternoon sun. All tulips prefer neutral to slightly acidic sandy soil with good drainage. Shelter tall tulips from wind.
If you are looking for the earliest possible bloom, plant the Double Early, Emperor, Kaufmannia, and Greigii cultivars. For a show later in the spring, plant Midseason Darwin Hybrids or Triumphs.
(Eranthus hyemalis L.)
This poisonous plant of a thousand detective stories is a member of the buttercup family. (It has slightly different poisons from the “true aconite,” but it is still extremely toxic if consumed by people or pets.) It blooms in late spring in colder climates. In mild climates, winter aconite blooms as early as January. Winter aconite can be naturalized under deciduous trees, completing its annual life cycle before the leaves come out.
Now let’s take a look at some bulb flowers for summer bloom.
Acidanthera, also known as Abyssinian Gladiolus
(Acidanthera bicolor Murielae)
This close relative of the gladiolus will never be the main attraction of the garden, but it is a beautiful plant for framing a larger planting or for creating tiny oases of color in a summer garden. Unless you live in the tropics or hardiness zones 8 or 9, acidanthera won’t survive the winter outside. You will need to plant the bulbs 3 to 5 inches (about 75 to 125 mm) in the ground in late spring if you live north of these hardiness zones, or about 2 inches (50 mm) deep in you live in these hardiness zones.
Acidanthera are not fussy about soil pH, but they need good drainage and full sun. Feed with liquid fertilizer about every four weeks and keep well-watered during the growing season. If you live in a cold-winter climate, dig up corms and bring them inside before your first frost. Protect from snails and slugs.
Agapanthus, also known as African Lily and Lily of the Nile
Agrapanthus doesn’t really produce an “umbel” of flowers on tiny stems. It blossoms in hundreds of individual blue, purple, or white flowers atop a main stem for an amazing display of blue and purple colors. And if you divide your agrapanthus at the end of their growing season, you will have an even more massive flower display next year.
Agrapanthus grows outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 through 11. In colder climates it can be planted as annual as soon as possible after the last frost of spring. This plant can survive light winter frosts if it is well-mulched. After the plant dies down in the fall, cut the corms at narrow points, dividing plants in two or three pieces, and replant for the next year’s show.
Caladium, also known as Elephant’s Ear
(Caladium bicolor, available in over 1000 cultivars)
Caladiums are large, showy plants prized for their leaf color, but also providing interest by their flowers. Gardeners throughout USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11 plant beds of caladiums around houses, and gardeners in colder climates set out caladium bulbs every spring for continuous summer color.
Strictly speaking, caladiums grow from tubers, not bulbs. They should be lifted and stored inside before first frost to be replanted in the spring, unless you live in a climate that does not get winter frost. All parts of the plant are poisonous to pets and people. Many gardeners prefer to grow them as potted plants.
Camassia, also known Casamas, Quamash, Indian Hyacinth, and Wild Hyacinth
(Camassia quamash (Pursh) Greene)
Whole meadows fill with summer blooming, six-petalled camassias. Native Americans used their bulbs as a source of flour, although you shouldn’t try this. A plant of similar appearance is highly toxic. The best used of camassia in landscaping is setting out a few hundred bulbs in a damp meadow, and leaving them to take over in a few years with no attention at al. Camassia is especially well suited to growth in the American Northwest.
There is hardly an easier plant to grow in the summer garden than the canna. Towering waist- to head-high with its leaves resembling a banana and its stalks of long-lasting flowers, this temperate-zone relative of the ginger plant and the bird of paradise requires little other than regular watering to produce flower for weeks. At one time nearly all cannas were red, but hybridizers have created
There are gardeners who have achieve success with cannas from the equator to north of the Arctic Circle as well as across the Southern Hemisphere. As long as cannas have 6 to 8 hours of sun every day for a few weeks without freezing temperatures, they will bloom abundantly. But be warned that cannas like to make themselves a permanent part of your garden. They are hard to remove once they have become established.
(Dahlia pinnata Cav. and 41 other species)
The dahlia is the national flower of Mexico. This relative of the sunflower grows from tubers that were a major food crop for the Aztecs. But today the dahlia is a favorite in summer gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11. Dahlias come in a tremendous range of colors and also a tremendous range of configurations. There are dahlia blossoms that look like waterlilies, cacti, peonies, pompoms, and orchids, in at least 14 different shapes.
Dahlias are especially susceptible to damage from snails, slugs, and earwigs. They also have problems with mildew, fungus, and bacterial wilt diseases. If you live in a place where the ground freezes during the winter, you will need to dig up your dahlias and store them in a cool, dry place until you replant them the following spring.
The trumpet-like, three-petaled flowers of the daylily only last a day, but each plant sports multiple blooms day after day through spring and summer. The flower blooms in the morning and withers at night, only to be replaced the next day on the same scape (stalk).
Some dishes such as hot and sour soup and moo shu pork feature daylilies, but this delicacy for humans is fatal for cats. Keep cats away from daylilies and their pollen.
Daylilies come in an astonishing range of colors. There are naturally yellow, orange, and pale pink daylilies, and daylilies that have been hybridized to blossom in green, near-black, lavenders, purples, and vibrant reds.
Daylilies can be included in an endless variety of garden designs. These beloved bulb flowers grow in almost any soil. They grow in shade or sun, but yellow and pink daylilies need full sun in the morning to bring out their color, while red and purple daylilies are not colorfast in full sun. Most daylilies are more attractive when they receive shade in the afternoon.
Any well-drained but moist soil works for daylilies. Divide corms in the winter for a larger planting next year.
Eremurus, also known as Desert Lily and Foxtail Lily
These hardy plants from Afghanistan and the Himalayas produce white flower spikes that tower over the flower garden in late summer as much as 10 feet (3 meters) tall. Plant them in full sun in a location protected from wind. The soil should be well-drained but well-fertilized.
(Gladiolus communis L.)
“Glads” are among the most popular of all summer-blooming bulb flowers. The funnels of fragrance growing atop a wobbly stem come in dozens of colors and shades, one of them sure to be suited to your garden planting. Like their relatives the irises, they often bloom all summer long.
Gladiolas are fussier than most bulb flowers about soil pH. They need a slightly acidic soil to thrive, pH 6.0 to 7.0. They need regular watering and regular feeding before and after blooming. Although gladioli are successful summer plants in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 10, where winters are colder than Zone 7 the bulbs should be dug and stored indoors during the winter.
Hymenocallis, also known as Spider Lily
(Hymenocallis littoralis (Jacq.) Salisb.)
These uniquely shaped white or red flowers appear in late summer and early fall in marshes and bogs across the eastern United States. They can be grown as annuals almost anywhere. They can be grown in moist locations as perennials anywhere the ground does not freeze in the winter. In the United States, they survive winters as far north as southwestern Indiana. Anywhere you can grow amaryllises, you can grow spider lilies.
(iris germanica L. and about 300 other species).
Irises bloom reliably from early spring through the summer. Their petals serve as a “landing pad” for bees and butterflies, attracting them to the garden. Irises come in all colors with and without “beards” and grow under all kinds of conditions.
If you don’t live in the Arctic or in a desert, chances are that you can grow irises. There are over 30,000 cultivars of irises. It is just a matter of finding the right iris for your garden. But if for success with the beautiful cushion irises, like the iris picture here, you will need to provide them with shallow, gritty soil. For your first planting, place the corms in a sunny location with the “root” showing at the top of the ground. Unless you are dividing irises to share with friends or to expand your plantings, you should leave them alone in the fall.
Tigridia, also known as Peacock Flower and Mexican Shelfllower
(Tigridia pavonia (L.f.) Redouté)
The ancient Aztecs named the plant we now call tigridia ocēlōxōchitl, or jaguar flower. The name of the flower in English, Latin, and the ancient language of the Aztecs refers to its tiger-like coloration complete with spots. You have to spend a lot of time in your garden to appreciate tigridia. Each bloom lasts a single day, but there may be multiple blooms on the same stalk.
Cultivation of tigridia is similar to cultivation of their plant cousin, the iris.
(Begonia x tubeohybrida)
Tuberous begonias are among the easiest plants to grow in summer shade. They bloom all summer long in shady spots of the garden where no other flowering plants will be as happy. Their red, white, orange, yellow, pink, and salmon blooms may be single or double and may be ruffled, toothed or plain. Their petals may have blotches of contrasting color, crests, or margins.
Tuberous begonias tolerate some early morning or late afternoon sun, but they need shade most of the day. They dry out easily, and need to be watered when it doesn’t rain for a week or more. Tuberous begonias are heavy feeders that need frequent fertilizing throughout their growing season.
Now let’s get to know some bulb flowers that make their appearance in fall gardens.
(Amaryllis belladonna L.)
The amaryllis comes into its glory in late summer and autumn. Its white, pink, or purple flowers sport crimson veins and emit a fragrant smell similar to narcissus. This plant is not to be confused with a houseplant with a similar blossom also called an “amaryllis” that is in a different plant family.
This African native is best suited for outdoor plantings in Hardiness Zones 6 through 8. It prefers to grow under about an inch (25 mm) of mulch. Water amaryllis while the foliage is green but withhold water when the leaves had died to trigger blooming. You can propagate amaryllis by digging up and dividing bulbs after the plant goes dormant in the fall, or by separating offshoots when they appear.
(Crocus sativus L.)
Some species of crocus are among the first flowers of spring. This species of crocus is one of the last bulb flowers to blood in the fall. The requirements of the plant are the same as its spring-blooming relatives, but the reward of the plant, if you are incredibly patient, is your own crop of the spice saffron.
(late-blooming Canna species)
If you want to attract bees, butterflies, and bats to your garden throughout late summer and fall, plant these late-blooming varieties of cannas that take over the show when their cousins have died down for the year. Like the earlier-blooming cannas, these plant are relatives of tropical plants in the Ginger family, so you need to dig them up and store indoors for the winter when their foliage dies down, unless you live in a climate that gets light or no freezes in winter.
Chilly Lily, also known as Rain Lily and Texas Tulip
Most tulips bloom in the spring. But these heat-loving, drought resistant native American flowers burst out of the ground and bloom in just a day after the first cool showers after a long summer drought. In less than week, their blossoms and foliage disappear and they sink beneath the ground for another year.
It is difficult to go wrong with chilly lilies. They thrive in even hard, alkaline soil, and they need no attention most of the year. You can buy chilly lilies as dry bulbs, but it’s better to buy bulbs in pots. Potting the plant after it blooms and its leaves die allows the bulb to continue growing beneath the soil. These beautiful members of the Amaryllis family can be planted any time of year. Just don’t forget they are there while you are waiting for beautiful burst of white, pink, or red color when nothing else is blooming.
Colchicum, also known as Naked Lady
Fall-blooming colchicums pop up out of the ground without foliage before the bloom, earning them the epithet “naked lady.” They look a lot like crocuses, except they have six stamens, while crocuses only have three. Their flowers appear in the fall, but the strap-like foliage arrives only the next spring. Cultivation requirements are similar to crocuses.
(Crocosmia aurea (Pappe ex Hook.f.) Planch.)
Crocosmia provide pinwheels of color in the late fall garden almost until the first frost. Care for them the same way you would care for irises.
The liatris is a wonderful addition to any fall garden because It attracts butterflies. Butterflies feed on the nectar produced by its spikes of blue flowers as they migrate to their winter homes or in their last generation of the year in your garden. Liatris grows as much as 5 feet (2.5 m) tall, making it a green background in spring and summer and a golden background plant after it blooms in the fall.
Liatris are cold-hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9 and will survive winters in Zones 3 and 4 if they are mulched. This flower grows in all kinds of soils, even rocky soils, but prefers full sun.
Nerine, also known as Guernsey lily, Jersey lily, or spider lily
(Nerine sarniensis (L.) Herb.)
Here is a second “spider lily” for even later bloom in your fall garden. These beauties from South Africa are grown like other members of the amaryllis family, but they take two years after planting to yield their first abundant flowers. The larger the bulb, the more flowers you will see two years after planting.