How To Make The Most Of Summer Bulbs

  • Published on: 18 September 2019
  • By: Office Department

Summer bulbs are very versatile, colourful and flamboyant additions to the border, great for filling space or planting in containers. There is quite a choice and David Hall says you can achieve magnificent colour all summer long.

Oriental Lilies are very dramatic and combine marvellous colour with a superb fragrance. Ideal for cut flowers, there's a large range of different sizes and colours to choose from including the pollen free 'China Girl'.

Tuberous Begonias flower beautifully all through the summer and also possess lovely dark green foliage. They are perfect for hanging baskets and window boxes.

Gladioli have an old fashioned image but are very bright and colourful bulbs that can make great cut flowers with their elegant long stems.

Crocosmia can look fabulous, they are fast growing and easy to look after. Quickly multiplying these bulbs have beautiful orange, red and yellow flowers that bring great vibrancy to the garden.

Cannas are fantastic plants with some varieties reaching 10ft, although there are others much shorter. They are easy to grow from rhizomes and their bold colours and exotic leaves are a revelation.

When And How To plant

Think about planting them outside in the spring when the soil is warming up, ideally at least 13C / 55F or the bulbs may rot instead of grow. 

Inspect the bulbs carefully, checking that each one is firm and in good order. 

If planting in the garden, the soil type isn't too important but bulbs hate to be waterlogged, so if you have heavy soil, dig deep, and add grit together with organic matter to improve the drainage. 

The depth that the bulbs are planted is important as they might not flower if it's too shallow. Use a dibber or create a shallow trench, don't push them into the earth. As a rule they should be planted to a depth that is at least double their size and about two or three times their width apart.

It might sound obvious but also make sure the bulbs are the correct way up with the growing point pointing skywards. Generally speaking summer bulbs aren't particularly picky about the type of soil and most enjoy a warm sunny position. However, some like Oriental Lilies do prefer acid soil while others such as Begonias don't mind dappled shade.

Alternatively plant in pots and other containers. The advantage is that containers can be moved around the garden or onto the patio, so that the plants can be displayed at their best or moved to fill empty spaces.

Use a free draining peat free compost with added grit. Plant about one bulb width apart at three times their depth. Keep watered and feed with a fertilizer high in potassium (tomato feed is ideal). With Begonias, make sure the concave side faces up and plant one corm in a pot that is only slightly larger.


Summer bulbs can be hardy or tender. Of my favourites, Lilies and Crocosmia can be left in the ground through the winter perhaps with a mulch. 

Cannas can also be left in milder areas of the country covered with a mulch, however you can also lift and store them in slightly moist sand or bark in a frost free shed or garage. 

When frosts arrive, Begonias and Gladioli will need to be lifted. Clear away any soil and leaves, dry and then store in paper bags or netting.