The right bulbs

Plant now for great summer color

Kathleen Norris Brenzel

Of all the flowers in my garden, a few are like old friends who go away for winter, then return all refreshed and exuberant when temperatures warm in late spring. They're the easygoing summer bulbs ― callas, dahlias, gladiolus, and lilies (Asiatic and Oriental hybrids) ― that come back in garden beds or containers year after year.

Dahlias are the first to reappear (in late April or May), with spring-green foliage and jewel-bright flowers. Gladiolus come next (June or so), sending up spears of cheerful blooms. They're followed by Asiatic lilies, which unfurl star-shaped flowers, and by calla hybrids, whose blooms look like fluted cups. Oriental hybrids make a grand late entrance, in August; their large flowers perfume the whole garden.

Pop a few bulbs in a pot to display on a patio, or add them to a spot in the garden you can see from indoors. You'll enjoy their vivid colors and obliging natures.


Summer bulbs will bloom effortlessly if you get them off to a good start. Plant them in rich, fast-draining soil (dig in 3 in. of amendment such as compost before planting), then plant at the right depth. The rule of thumb for all bulbs is to plant at a depth three times the widest diameter of the bulb, though some summer bulbs need deeper planting. Follow the guidelines below. Also, when planting a tall variety of dahlia or lily, drive a 5- to 6-ft. stake just off-center in the planting hole. If planting a tuberous root, place the root horizontally in the bottom of the hole with the growth bud pointing toward the stake.

Calla (hybrids) plant 8-12 in. apart; 3-4 in. deep

Dahlia (small) 1-2 ft. apart; 3-4 in. deep

Dahlia (large) 3-5 ft. apart; 6 in. deep

Gladiolus (small) 4 in. apart; 2-3 in. deep

Gladiolus (large) 3-5 ft. apart; 4 in. deep

Lily (small) 6 in. apart; 4-5 in. deep

Lily (large) 1 ft. apart; 6 in. deep

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