Summer bulbs make it easy to take your pots and planters to new heights. With their bold foliage and exotic flowers, they are the perfect "thrillers" for container plantings. Simply plant the bulbs in spring at the same time as you're planting annuals. By midsummer, these heat-loving bulbs will be starting to fill out. By late summer, they'll be in their prime and will continue looking great well into the fall.
Here are 11 of the best summer bulbs for pots and planters:
Canna lilies are tropical plants with big, shiny leaves and brightly-colored, orchid-like flowers that attract hummingbirds. Cannas are excellent container plants. You can give them their own container, or combine them with other annuals or summer bulbs. With their impressive size and decorative foliage, cannas can add a tropical look to patios, decks, entryways, water gardens and pool areas.
Calla lilies are known for their unusual flowers and decorative foliage. The flowers come in a wide range of beautiful colors and are popular with florists because they're so long-lasting. Though many people grow calla lilies in their flower gardens, few people realize how well these bulbs grow in containers. The flowers last for a month or more, and the foliage is attractive both before and after they bloom.
Lilies bloom in a rainbow of beautiful colors and many types are wonderfully fragrant. Asiatic and Oriental lilies are the best for containers. The bulbs can be paired with other plants, but they prefer being planted in pots on their own. Keep the pots in an out of the way location and then move them into a prominent spot as they come into bloom.
Elephant ears are dramatic plants with big, heart-shaped leaves that nod and sway in every passing breeze. Though elephant ears are only winter hardy in zones 9-11, they can be grown anywhere in the U.S. In cool climates, the bulbs grow best in containers. This also makes it easy to bring the plants indoors for the winter months.
Caladiums love heat and humidity. All varieties grow well in full to partial shade, and some are suitable for sun as well. Caladiums are usually considered landscape plants, but they also grow well in containers. The colorful foliage suggests lots of creative pairings with annuals, perennials and other summer bulbs.
Dahlias aren't often thought of as container plants, but they are a perfect way to keep containers looking colorful from late summer through fall. Container-grown dahlias will also provide a surprising number of cut flowers, and the more blossoms you cut, the more you'll get. For a small to medium-sized container, choose border dahlias or a relatively compact variety such as H.S. Date (shown above). Full size dahlias need a large container and a stake or cage to support for the stems.
Gladiolas are cutting garden classics. Each flower stalk is 3 to 4 feet long and displays 8 to 12 orchid-like flowers that open one by one from the bottom up. Glads are always the stars in summer flower arrangements, and they're equally effective when planted in a large container, alone or with other annuals, perennials and bulbs.
Eucomis is an outstanding summer-blooming bulb that deserves to be more widely grown. The plants have shiny, strappy leaves and long-lasting flowers that resemble pineapples (the common name is pineapple lily). Eucomic bulbs can be planted in the garden, but growing them in containers makes it easier to appreciate their exotic flowers.
Acidanthera is a cousin to the gladiola. It has the same sword-like foliage, but the flowers are completely different. Also known as peacock lily, acidanthera's fragrant, pure white flowers are borne in clusters of three or four blossoms on slender stems.
Nerine bowdenii is a fall-flowering bulb with fragrant, candy pink flowers. The bulbs grow well in pots and look best planted in groups of 3 or more. In growing zones 3-7, the bulbs should be brought indoors for the winter months and be allowed to go dormant until spring.
Tuberous begonias are ideal container plants for shady gardens, patios, porches and patios. Their large, waxy flowers resemble roses and bloom in beautiful colors. Choose upright or cascading forms, depending on the type of container you want to fill.
To learn more about growing bulbs in containers, read: How to Grow Summer Bulbs in Containers.