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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Small-cup daffodils possess all the same qualities as large-cup and trumpet daffodils with the difference being the size of their cups. To be classified as a small-cup daffodil, the cup (aka corona) must be less than one-third the length of the petals. Most small-cup daffodils bear only one flower per stem. Ranging from miniature daffodils standing 6 inches tall to those that tower 24 inches or more in the spring garden, these pretty plants look at home throughout the landscape. Small-cup daffodils often emit a lovely fragrance.
Split-cup daffodils are so named because varieties in this division have a central cup that's cut -- usually for more than half its length. They are sometimes called butterfly daffodils because the split sections of the cup fold back against the petals, resembling spread butterfly wings.
In other respects, split-cup daffodils resemble standard trumpet or large-cup daffodils. They bear one flower per stem and come in the full range of daffodil colors: white, yellow, pink, orange, and bicolor. Some varieties are fragrant, and all are resistant to deer and rabbit damage.
You can often catch the fragrance of tazetta hybrid daffodils (aka paperwhite narcissus) before you see these small flowering spring bulbs. This daffodil produces three to 20 short-cup flowers per stem in shades of white, yellow, pink, and orange. Warm-climate tazetta daffodil (which is somewhat less hardy than its large-cup cousins) is perfect for both Southern gardens and forcing. Some varieties give off a powerful perfume that can easily scent a small garden. Like all daffodils, tazetta hybrids thrive in well-drained soil that is somewhat dry in summer.
Triandrus daffodils, also known as Angel’s Tears, usually display two or more showy flowers per stem. The distinguishing feature of the flowers is their petals, which flare backward and bend down at the neck. This contortionist move makes the cup (or trumpet) all the more conspicuous. Most daffodils in this group are sweetly scented and appear in shades of white and yellow.
Plant them (at least six at a time) in beds, borders, containers, beneath deciduous trees, in rock gardens or cottage gardens, or in naturalized areas for the best displays. Drifts of these daffodils are spectacular. Long-lived and slowly spreading when planted in bright light and well-drained soil, Triandrus daffodils are a garden investment that pays floral dividends for decades.
The garden favorite dahlia is known for its variety of flower shapes. The annual is classified into 14 groups based on blossom type. They come in all colors except the elusive blue. Dahlia plants can be used year after year with only a bit of extra effort because their tuberous roots can be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring.
Dog’s-tooth violet is known by a host of common names that include yellow trout lily, yellow fawn lily, and yellow adder’s tongue. No matter the name, this native woodland wildflower (which, surprisingly, is not a member of the violet family) is a harbinger of spring in the shade garden. It spreads slowly to form colonies of mottled strappy foliage—similar in appearance to the skin of a spotted trout—below stems of nodding lilylike flowers in sunny yellow.
Tuck this tiny spring bloomer into shade gardens, woodland plantings, and shaded areas of rock gardens where it will gracefully greet spring. Thriving in moist or wet soil, it also grows well along stream banks and beside ponds. Plant it on stream banks to help prevent erosion.
Big leaves and bold vein patterns make elephant’s ear easy to spot. Popular indoors and outdoors, elephant’s ear brings bold shape and pattern no matter where it is planted. Call on it to serve as a focal point where its easy-care foliage will add interest throughout the growing season and year-round indoors. Elephant’s ear tolerates moist soils in the landscape but grows best when kept on the dry side indoors.
Wood hyacinths or Spanish bluebells have spires of nodding, bell-shape blooms in mid-spring. In pink, white, and blue, their pastel hues are beautiful intermixed or planted separately for drifts of the same color.
They complement late-blooming varieties of tulips. Native to Spain and Portugal, wood hyacinths are excellent naturalizers.
Four o'clock is an old-fashioned garden favorite that pleases the eye—and the nose—with fragrant tubular-shape flowers that come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Sometimes you even get blossoms of different colors on the same plant. These showy flowers open at about 4 p.m. (hence the name) and close up again the following morning. Since it loves to self-seed, this old-fashioned cottage plant can often be planted once and then enjoyed for years. Use four o'clock to fill up space quickly in an annual or mixed bed, or provide splashes of color from a container. Or plant the nighttime bloomer near a bedroom window so you can enjoy its fragrance along with the light of the moon.
Worth noting: This fragrant, beautiful plant is poisonous.
A native of South Africa, freesia pleases with upward-facing blossoms in bright colors and by adding a citrusy perfume to the air in late spring to early summer. Each freesia stem produces five to 10 tubular flowers, all of which grow on only one side of the stem. Double-flowered hybrids provide an even showier display. Worth noting: The stems turn at right angles just below the lowest flower, which results in blossoms that face the sky and attract pollinators. This characteristic makes freesia wonderful for arrangements.
You can’t miss Fritillaria planted in a spring garden. Whether it is the charming checkered fritillary or whimsical crown imperial, these two members of the Fritillaria genus (which boasts more than 100 species) boldly separate themselves from the sea of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils they bloom among. Crown imperial’s orange, red, or yellow blossom is topped with a tuft of foliage reminiscent of the leaves atop a pineapple, while checkered fritillary and its many relatives sport sweetly nodding cup-shape flowers on sturdy green stems. Rarely planted in home gardens, crown imperial and fritillary are both easy to grow and deserve a special space in the spring landscape.
The retro look of gladiolus flowers is popular once again. These easy-to-grow bulbs bring a lot to the garden party, including a huge color palette, vertical interest, and bloom times that harmonize well with summer's most colorful perennials. Plus, they're a versatile cut flower, and the ruffled single florets can even be plucked off the stem and arranged in vases and bowls. The perfumed Abyssinian gladiolus is a rare plant that everyone can enjoy.
You can't help but be wowed by gloriosa lily's fantastical flowers. This climbing vine offers spidery blooms that look a bit like fireballs because the petals curve back and appear in glowing shades of red and yellow.
While gloriosa lily is a tender bulb, gardeners in cold-winter climates can grow it by storing the tubers in a frost-free place for winter.
Native to Western Turkey, these cheery little spring-blooming bulbs are one of the earliest to bloom. In fact, glory-of-the-snow are often so early there is still snow on the ground and the small flowers still manage to bloom—hence their common name. These little bulbs are a great option if you are looking for early color and a bulb that will naturalize easily and quickly.
Capable of blooming anytime during the year, regal gloxinias produce rich, colored flowers. Exclusively cultivated for indoor gardening, gloxinia will not successfully transplant outdoors. But that's just as well, because you'll enjoy its tropical blooms better inside. Growing 8-12 inches tall, the soft, fragile-looking gloxinia blooms are surrounded by large, dramatic-looking leaves. Gloxinia does best in bright, but indirect, light and enjoys temperatures of 60-75 degrees F.
Gloxinia blooms 4-10 weeks after planting. If you are potting up a gloxinia for the first time, use a 6-inch pot with adequate drainage and place one tuber per container. The soil mixture should allow maximum drainage; a commercial African violet mixture is good. When potting, set the tuber in the soil with the round side down, and leave its tip barely above the soil. Water generously. When the first buds appear, feed with a dilute solution of liquid houseplant food.
Grape hyacinths paint the spring landscape in stunning shades of blue, purple, white, or yellow and offer up a sweet scent of grape bubblegum as well. These easy-care bulbs are frequently mass-planted to create a river effect in borders. Their tranquil look makes a great low background to the taller blooms of tulips. These undemanding small bulbs spread easily in any well-drained garden soil.
The perfume of blooming hyacinths is as symbolic of early spring as lilacs are to the late-spring garden. Hyacinth plants consist of chubby succulent leaves arranged around a central flower spike. Florets pack the flower column in tight clusters. Bulb hybridizers have been busy pushing the envelope on hyacinth colors and forms, and now hybrids are available in almost every color except black. The double forms have rosettelike flowers that add intriguing texture.
Hyacinths thrive in any well-drained soil in full to partial sun. Many varieties—usually the ones with the most robust flowers—will force easily indoors in soil or damp pebbles if planted and chilled until sprouts appear.
Just when you think winter is never going end, the cheery blue and yellow flowers of Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ burst into bloom. This flowers from this easy-care bulb may be short, but they're big on bold color, especially when planted in large groupings in a rock or woodland garden. Like other bulbs, Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ requires full sun (at least six hours a day) and well-drained soil. Plant the spring-blooming bulbs in autumn, placing them 4 inches deep in the soil. Over time, Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ will spread, slowly carpeting your garden with color. After the flowers fade, leave the foliage alone until it dries and disappears on its own.
Fascinatingly beautiful Jack-in-the-pulpit naturalizes in small clusters as an accent plant in shade and woodland gardens. Place Jack-in-the-pulpits sparingly in a large growth of groundcover for a magical display. During midsummer dormancy, fill in with impatiens or other shade-tolerant annuals.