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Brighten Any Space with Containers of Summer-Flowering Bulbs

January 30, 2024

By Melinda Myers

Add unexpected beauty to your patio, deck, or balcony with summer-blooming bulbs. You may have grown elephant ears, lilies, dahlias, gladiolus, and caladiums in your garden, but did you know they also thrive in containers? Some summer bulbs grow even better in pots than they do in the garden. These include the exotic-looking flowers of Abyssinian gladiolus, calla lilies, pineapple lilies, and spider lilies.

One of the reasons these bulbs perform so well in containers is that you can be sure they get warm soil, consistent water, and plenty of nutrients. Taller plants like gladiolus, lilies, dahlias, cannas, and elephant ears are the perfect thrillers for large containers. Their bold foliage and extravagant blooms are sure to steal the show. Just plant the bulbs in spring along with your other annuals. As temperatures rise, these heat-loving bulbs will begin to fill in and soon burst into bloom providing added texture and color from late summer through fall.

You may find that summer-blooming bulbs like the pineapple lily (Eucomis), calla lily, and fragrant Hymenocallis perform better in their own containers because there is no competition with other plants for space, nutrients, and moisture. Before the bulbs begin flowering, their foliage provides an attractive backdrop for other container plants that bloom earlier in the season. Once flowering begins, you can move the pots front and center to fully enjoy the show. In cold climates, growing in containers also makes it easier to overwinter the bulbs. Just move the pots indoors to a cool, dark location until it’s time to replant the next spring.

Combine plants of different sizes and shapes to create visual excitement. Containers filled with tall plants such as gladiolus, cannas, tall varieties of dahlias, and large elephant ears provide striking vertical accents. Shorter plants like caladiums, pineapple lily, and triplet lily (Brodiaea) can be positioned in front of the larger pots. Add a few planters filled with your favorite annuals to keep the color going all season long.

Many summer-blooming bulbs are wonderfully fragrant. Growing these plants on a patio, deck, or balcony, ensures you won’t miss out on their delightful perfume. Late summer evenings are even sweeter when you are surrounded by containers filled with Oriental lilies, spider lilies, and acidanthera.  

Small bulbs can grow into enormous plants, so choosing the right size container is important if you want your summer bulbs to reach their full potential. Longfield Gardens provides helpful tips in its Best Summer Bulbs for Containers article(www.longfield-gardens.com).

Most mid-sized dahlias will grow well in a five-gallon container. Dahlias that get to be more than 3 feet tall need a larger pot as well as sturdy stakes for extra support. Cannas and elephant ears are thirsty plants and can develop a very large root system in just a few short months. For these tropical beauties, the bigger the pot, the better!

Extend the bloom time for gladiolus and its cousin, Abyssinian gladiolus, by planting the bulbs in batches about two weeks apart. Both of these summer bulbs have sword-like foliage that provides vertical interest while you wait for the beautiful blooms. If you like cut flowers, grow a few extra pots of gladiolus so you can include them in summer arrangements.

Calla lilies are easy to grow in pots, even for gardeners in cool climates. Choose from a rainbow of beautiful flower colors, from white and yellow, to peach, red, and nearly black. The blossoms last for a month or more, and the lush foliage stays attractive all season long.

Extend the season into early fall with the exotic-looking flowers of Nerine bowdenii. Plant three or more bulbs per container and look forward to fragrant, candy-pink blossoms in September. 

Let the unique flowers of pineapple lily (Eucomis) shine by growing them in their own container. The long-lasting flowers feature a green topknot that makes them resemble a pineapple. As with nerines, callas, and other non-hardy summer bulbs, Eucomis can be overwintered indoors and replanted in spring.

The possibilities are many. No matter which summer bulbs you choose, growing them in containers is a sure way to add pizzazz to your patio, deck, balcony, or entryway.
 

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD instant video series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.