Garden Variety: Summer flowering bulbs

One of the best ways to find new things to incorporate into a garden is to peruse the neighborhood at different times of year to see what plants are thriving.

In mid- to late summer, some plants are suffering from the heat, while others are just coming into glory. Over the next few weeks, you might catch the grand beauty of summer flowering bulbs such as gladiolus, cannas, dahlias and two species of alliums.

Summer flowering bulbs are generally classified as annuals in the Lawrence area, although cannas will occasionally survive the winter and one species of allium is perennial. Plant them in spring after all danger of frost has passed and enjoy them in the heat of the summer.

The bulbs, corms or tubers should be dug from the garden after fall frost occurs but before the ground completely freezes. Once dry, wrap in newspaper, peat moss, burlap or something similar and store in a cool, dry place for the winter. Ideal storage temperature for summer flowering bulbs is 40 to 60 degrees F. Replant each spring.

Each variety has unique attributes to add to the garden. Here are the details:


Plants produce long stems with stacked blossoms popular for arrangements. Cut stems and bring them to a vase inside for enjoyment, or prop them in the landscape to keep wind and rain from knocking bloom-laden stems to the ground. Gladiolus are available in almost any color, in miniature as well as regular size, and with plain, frilly or ruffly petals.


Another old favorite, cannas produce red, orange, pink and yellow flowers at the top of an unrolling of giant tropical leaves. Dwarf cannas are 1 foot or more in height and old-fashioned varieties may grow to 8 feet in their short life. Flowers are arranged like gladiolus on a long stem but smaller and less showy. Plants are also available with bronze and variegated leaves for additional interest.


Showy blossoms in an array of red, pink, purple, orange, yellow and white make dahlias another popular cut flower. Plant height ranges from 1 to 6 feet across varieties, and taller varieties may need staking or propping in the landscape. Dahlias are also prone to more disease and insect problems than other summer flowering bulbs, but the blooms are worth the extra care if you can find the time.


Allium “Millenium” is a beautiful summer-blooming hybrid that produces a round rosy-purple ball at the top of a 1- to 1 1/2-foot-tall stem. The ball is a cluster of tiny flowers with a see-through effect and will give the most show when the plants are massed. Millenium produces sterile seed unlike other alliums, so it will only grow where it is planted.

The second summer-blooming allium option is A. tuberosa, or garlic chives. A. tuberosa is perennial so it will save the maintenance of digging and replanting, but it also reproduces by seed so it can spread quickly. The plant produces clusters of tiny pink to white flowers atop long stems. Plant it for both ornamental and culinary use.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to