Springtime flowering bulbs get a lot of attention, but there are bulbs that bloom in summer and autumn, too. Flowering bulbs, which are planted individually and may be annuals, biennials, or perennials, produce a wide variety of blooms and foliage. Bulbs work beautifully in flower beds or containers, and can be used to accent other plants or make a stunning statement when grouped together. Choosing the right flowering spring, summer, and autumn bulb for your yard is now even easier: The Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia allows you to search bulbs by size or season, as well as problem-solving uses. Information for each bulb will help you learn about hardiness zone, sun or shade requirements, other special features, and planting suggestions. View a list of bulbs by common name or scientific name below.
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Wearing some of the brightest petals in the flower kingdom and some of the most potent perfumes, lilies spill out their charms from early summer to early fall. To stage a lily show all summer, grow some of each type, including Asiatic, the enticingly fragrant Oriental and longiflora hybrids, and some of the species lilies in special situations such as under trees or in rock gardens.
Lilies will naturalize and spread freely in light, fertile soils. They require good drainage to flourish. On the East Coast, bright red lily beetles are becoming a problem. Treat the soil around the plants to control larvae, or pick the adult beetles off blooms to prevent damaged petals.
How can such a tiny flower give off such a tremendous scent? Tiny lily of the valley sends up its lovely little sprays of bell-like white or pale pink flowers each spring. Allow it to spread a little (which it does, so much that it can be a problem) and it will perfume the whole area with its distinctive scent. It also makes adorable, tiny bouquets. It makes a good groundcover in small areas.
Lily of the valley prefers shade and moist soil. In sunny or dry conditions, its leaves will brown. It can easily become invasive, so it's smart to put it in an area where it will be difficult to spread too far, such as a blocked in by a driveway or sidewalk.
This easy-to-grow charmer works both indoors and out. Oxalis bears colorful, cloverlike leaves that close up at night. They appear in a range of colors from silver to purple -- and several are variegated with other colors. The cup-shape blooms are also attractive and appear in shades of yellow, pink, and white.
Indoors, some oxalis varieties will bloom all year if given enough light. Outdoors, treat them as delightful summer annuals or choose perennial selections that are hardy for your area. Most oxalis selections do best in part to full shade and well-drained soil. Be sure not to overwater.
If you like iris, here's a different type to try: peacock flower. It's not a true iris, but produces lovely, delicate flowers that strongly resemble one.
Peacock lily is grown in a manner similar to iris, though this plants is winter-hardy only in the southernmost parts of the country, Zones 8-11. It bears irislike flowers on perennial flowering stems that reach 4 feet tall.
This is one spider you'll love to get close to! Peruvian daffodil is named for the long, leglike petals radiating from its central blossom. Blooming in spring, summer, or early fall, it is sweetly fragrant and accompanied by dark green, straplike leaves. Many varieties thrive in moist soil, such as at the edge of a pond or stream or a slow-draining garden spot. Its bold green foliage and exotic flowers give this flower a tropical vibe. Pair it with canna, rush, and other plants that thrive in moist soil. Like other tender bulbs, gardeners in cold-winter climates can dig up the bulbs and store them in a frost-free place for winter.
Tall, ruffled flower spikes rise dramatically above broad, strappy leaves in this tropical member of the hyacinth family, quenching the thirst for exotic architecture in mixed borders. New varieties of the pineapple lily are hardier and even more colorful, with wine-color stems and foliage contrasting beautifully with the small rose or pale green flowers that open along the bloom spike. Some varieties can even tolerate full sun. In more temperate climates, the foliage will die back to the ground and resprout in late spring. Plant pineapple lily in warm, sunny locations in well-drained soil. Excessive winter moisture will cause the bulbous base to rot. Pineapple lily is also a great accent plant for large containers.
A crocus lookalike, rain lily is an easy-to-grow bulb perfect for hot-summer climates. It bears grassy foliage and starry white flowers in summer and early fall. It usually goes dormant after it blooms, so plant it with a groundcover so you're not left with a bare spot in the garden. Like most bulbs, it looks best in mass plantings.
Rain lily does best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. It's a wonderful choice for rock gardens. In climates where the bulb is not hardy, you can dig it in fall and store it in a frost-free place over winter.
Whether you call it an herb or a spice, saffron is made from the dried stigmas of one fall-blooming crocus species. This precious herb can be worth thousands of dollars per pound. Grow your own crop for significant savings in making your own paella. Plant this crocus in early fall; the corms will bloom 6-8 weeks later if the bulbs are planted 3-4 inches deep and about 2 inches apart. Saffron grows best in full sun in well-drained soil.
No rock garden or woodland garden is complete without the tiny electric-blue blooms of Scilla siberica. The easy-to-grow Siberian squill self-seeds with abandon. Growing best in rich, sandy soil, scillas bloom both in sunny spots and in partial shade. They also are impervious to rodent damage.
This versatile bulb is excellent planted in rock gardens, naturalized in woodlands, or allowed to spread at the feet of spring-flowering deciduous shrubs or trees. Squills are dainty bloomers and are best planted in large numbers to show the full effect of their riveting, intense color in early spring. Each bulb bears several flowers on stalks 4-6 inches tall. Scilla siberica is a good companion for early-blooming species of tulips.
In the fall, plant scilla bulbs three times their own depth, 3 inches apart, in rich, well-drained soil in a sunny or partially shaded spot. Scilla siberica is one of the few bulbs that will thrive when planted under evergreen trees. Siberian squill is generally not bothered by wildlife.
A traditional herald of spring, the common snowdrop has become glamorous, with many new forms available. It's no wonder -- this classic offers nodding white bells, dotted and underskirted with green and hanging from arching stems. They have a light, sweet fragrance. Snowdrops are very easy to grow, requiring only a well-drained soil. They prefer a shaded location and will spread naturally within a few years.
The leaves look like chives and if you walk by a planting of this South African native bulb and brush the foliage, you'll catch a whiff of garlic. The beautiful clusters of lavender-pink flowers have a sweet fragrance, similar to hyacinth perfume. They open up on tall stems from early summer until late fall. Noted for its drought tolerance, society garlic has become a staple in southern California landscapes.
These dangling flower bells flourish under trees or shrubs or in shady borders, where early spring color is at a premium. They make delightful companions for early-blooming shrubs such as hellebore and azalea. Spanish bluebells have a loose, informal growth habit and more delicate appearance than their cousins, the hybrid hyacinths. Plant them in any well-drained soil and watch them take off.
Perhaps the summer's most magical bulb, spider lily pops up seemingly overnight, with its colorful flowers sitting tall upon a single stem. The exotic look of the long petals and stamens accounts for the common name. It also bears the monikers hurricane lily (because of its bloom season) and naked ladies (because the flowers appear without leaves). With trumpet-shape blooms that resemble an amaryllis, spider lily forms a brilliant border in partially shaded places.
A perfect partner for daffodils, spring starflower grows just 3-4 inches tall and is decorated with white or purple-blue spicy-scented flowers in spring. Plant the bulbs near clusters of daffodils to carpet the soil around the sunny bloomers with pretty star-shape flowers. Spring starflower naturalizes rapidly. Its grasslike foliage makes it a pretty complement in a meadow where its naturalizing habits are often encouraged. It is considered one of the easiest bulbs to grow.
Plant spring starflower in well-drained soil and full sun or part shade. Plant bulbs 2-3 inches deep and about 2 inches apart. The plants will go dormant in late spring. Foliage will die back, and the plant will essentially disappear underground until the following spring.
This hardy European native gives spring borders one of the season's best shades of blue with its intense azure blossoms held in loose spikes. Look closely to see the dark blue veins running down the flowers and the blue anthers that protrude from each blossom. Like the later-blooming grape hyacinths, squills are most impactful when planted in drifts under trees or to accent the curve of a flower border. They bloom for 2-3 weeks in early spring and have a light, pleasing fragrance. Voles, rabbits, and deer won't bother these bulbs.
The starry white blooms of this European native are commonly called star-of-Bethlehem (shown with Spanish bluebells). Approximately 100 species of ornithogalum exist, many of which go by this common name. Plant height varies by species, and some grow as tall as 3 feet. The flowers, however, are similar, with six delicate petals fanned out to expose six stamens. Star-of-Bethlehem is a good choice for naturalizing because it spreads assertively and holds its lovely blooms for 1-2 weeks.
Plant ornithogalum bulbs in the fall in locations with full sun or part shade, spacing bulbs 2-3 inches apart and planting them 3-4 inches deep. A great choice for woodland gardens, ornithogalum naturalizes easily. In fact, bulbs multiply quickly and the plants self-sow readily, so you may want to limit their territory. Although propagation is unnecessary, you can lift plants following their bloom period and remove the small bulbs growing around the larger one. Replant the small bulbs immediately in another spot.
A flock of dainty summer snowflakes blooming under a tree will cure the worst case of cabin fever. The small, glistening white bells wear curious green dots on each petal. These European natives are also lightly fragrant. Although the plant's common name is summer snowflake, it actually blooms in mid- to late spring. Plant summer snowflakes in any good garden soil and they will naturalize easily into drifts.
Elephant's ears are lush, tropical accents that look good in any climate. These elephant's ears are hardier than their close relatives (alocasias) and their leaves are heart-shape and larger. When summer's warm weather arrives, they grow fast, achieving a large spread of at least 5 feet. Colocasias languish in drought but thrive in wet soils.
Beautiful tuberous begonias are among the most elegant of shade-loving plants. These tender bulbs prefer humid, cool-summer climates. In these regions, their intense colors brighten shady gardens as no other plant can. Their big, bold blooms may be single or double as plants produce separate male and female flowers. The larger flowers on the plant are male and can reach 6 inches across.
Many tuberous begonias have an arching plant habit, which makes them excellent for growing in hanging baskets or container gardens. Note: In areas where they're not hardy, dig up the tubers before the first fall frost and store them dormant in a cool (35-40 degrees F) place over winter. Start them indoors several weeks before your last frost date.