Plant now for great summer color

Kathleen Norris Brenzel  – November 4, 2004

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


More: Which Varieties to Grow