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How To Jump Start Summer Blooming Bulbs


Today we are going to talk about How To Jump-Start Summer Blooming Bulbs.  Summer flower bulbs, like dahlias, begonias, calla lilies, canna lilies; plus, non-flowering bulb plants like caladium and elephant ears. I live and garden in Zone 4b and if I waited until it was warm enough to start bulbs in the ground, it would be the end of summer before they bloomed. Of course, I could buy the plants, but why should I pay someone else to grow them, when I can do it myself. Plus, I’m sort of a gardening geek and I get a kick out of watching things grow.

Summer Blooming Bulbs - Learn How to Start Bulbs Indoors

Waking Up Your Over Wintered Bulbs and Tubers

Last fall I posted Over-Wintering Tender Bulbs and Tubers, like; tuberous begonias, dahlia tubers, caladium bulbs, elephant ears, canna lily bulbs and calla lily bulbs. Most of these tubers and bulbs are only winter hardy in the warmest of climates. I had great expectations of over-wintering several bulbs, so I dug them up and had them laying out to dry a bit in the garage. Someone decided it was time to clean the garage last fall and threw them all away. True story! And, yes that certain someone is still living. He will be buying me new bulbs this spring and he doesn’t even know it.

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So, if you over-wintered any bulbs, it’s time to get them planted and warmed up so they can get a head-start and be ready to go into pots or the ground when it’s warm enough outside.

If you didn’t over-winter bulbs, like me, you can get them at most big box stores. I’ve also had good luck ordering bulbs and plants from Eden Brothers, Dutch Gardens, Bluestone Perennials and Longfield Gardens.

The Best Summer Blooming Bulbs to Start Indoors

  • Caladium are gorgeous multi-colored leafed plants that thrive in warm, shady conditions. 
  • Begonias are a flowering plant that do well in shade and also love being in containers. 
  • Dahlias come in so many different varieties and make a wonderful addition to any flower garden.
  • Elephant Ears are a tropical plant that has huge elephant ear shaped leaves.
  • Canna Lilies are another tall tropical plant that have stalks of flowers in various colors.
  • Calla Lilies are a popular bouquet tube shaped flower.
  • Oriental or Asiatic Lilies are amazing flowers. Don’t start these too early because they grow fast.
  • Gladiolus are awesome flowers to cut for bouquets.
  • Ranunculus are a little tougher to start indoors, but so worth the effort.

Images of Summer Flower Bulbs

A Few Tips for Ordering Bulbs Online:

If you’ve never ordered from a particular company online, I suggest checking for reviews other than on their website. Dave’s Garden website has what they call Garden Watchdog where members can leave reviews on online plant companies. Sometimes there will be a mix of reviews for certain companies. In that case, look to see if a company representative responded to the complaint. That is usually a good indication that the company cares about it’s customers and wants to make them happy. If you are a member of a gardening group on Facebook or gardening forum, those are also good places to ask about a particular company you’re considering. 

Important Tip When Ordering Online – Nurseries that sell bulbs will generally ship the bulbs at the appropriate time for planting outdoors in your zone. It is very important to indicate on your order that you want to start the bulbs indoors early and to ship right away. If I don’t receive a shipping notice within a week, I will follow up with the company either by email or a phone call.

Supplies for Starting Bulbs Indoors:

  • Bulbs or Tubers
  • Pots – 5 inch ones like this, or 6 inch ones like this (You don’t need new pots, I just recycle ones from plants I’ve purchased.)
  • Good potting mix like this or this one.
  • Early Start Chart to keep track of the date your bulb was planted and the date it emerged, as well as other notes. This will be great to refer back to the following year. Pick up yours in the Gardening Resources Library.

How to Start Summer Flower Bulbs Indoors:

  • Start your bulbs about 6 weeks (caladium bulbs take more like 8 weeks) before the last frost date in your gardening zone. If you aren’t sure of that date, you can look it up here.
  • Read the directions on your potting mix. Some potting mixes may need water added before starting to plant.
  • As a general rule of thumb, bulbs or tubers need to be planted a depth of 2 times their diameter. It’s best to follow directions on the package of bulbs or tubers, but if you don’t have the package, this gives you a place to start.
  • Fill your pot about half way with potting mix.
  • Place the bulb or tuber on top of the soil. Pay special attention to which end is up. With some bulbs it’s difficult to tell, but I generally put the hairy root side down and the side with nodules up. Or, if you really can’t tell which end is up, plant the bulb on its side.
  • Finish filling the pot with soil and tamp the soil down.
  • Water really well, unless your potting mix was wet to begin with. You want moist soil, but not soggy wet soil.

Starting Summer Blooming Bulbs Indoors 

  • Next, place your potted bulbs into a tray like this, or something that will hold water run-off.
  • This step is totally optional, but I highly recommend using a heat mat underneath the tray. A heat mat helps to provide consistent soil temperatures. And, some bulbs like caladium bulbs take forever to send up shoots and I believe the heat from underneath really helps them along. If you have a really warm spot in front of a window, you may not need a heat mat.
  • Don’t forget to water, but don’t over water. Just a warning, if the soil stays wet or soggy for too long, the bulbs will rot. Don’t let your pots sit in water.
  • Once I start seeing growth, I do a little happy dance! Really, it doesn’t take much to get me excited. At this point the pots need a good light source. Unlike seedlings, my bulbs and tubers have always done fine in a sunny, south facing window. If the plants don’t have an adequate light source they will get very leggy and spindly. I generally run out of plant space in front of my south facing windows, so I use these plant lights. I love that they can very easily be adjusted. If you don’t have a sunny enough spot for them, consider putting them under grow lights. For more information about my light set-up, see my post on Indoor Seed Starting.


Begonia & Caladium - Starting Summer Bulbs Indoors

  • I usually wait until the temperatures are between 55 – 60 degrees at night before moving my plants outdoors. And then I wait until the soil temps are between 55 – 60 degrees before I plant them in the ground. Of course, I don’t measure the temperature of the soil, but rather I wait about two weeks of the nighttime temperatures being around 55 – 60 degrees to be sure the soil has warmed up.

Have your bulb starting supplies delivered right to your door:


Here is an example of what I do with some of the bulbs I start indoors. Years ago, I purchased this old wheelbarrow from an estate sale. We drilled holes in the bottom for drainage and I’ve used it every year since as a planter somewhere in my gardens. It’s a favorite of mine, but as a planter it takes a lot of plants to make it look full. The last few years, I’ve started both caladium and begonias to use in it and that makes it a little less expensive to fill. There are pictures of it here and here. This is a closeup of the tuberous begonia and caladium. They are just lovely additions to a shade garden.

Caladium and Tuberous Begonia

Another Great Way to Kick Start Your Summer Flowering Bulbs

If you’re a gardener like me that gardens in a colder zone and likes to start lots of plants indoors, you can very quickly run out of room. Several years ago, we purchased a pop-up style greenhouse. I love my portable greenhouse and I can fit so many more plants in it. If you’d like to learn more about a pop-up, portable style greenhouse to extend your garden season, check out this article: The Best Pop-up Greenhouse.

Are you thinking about getting a jump on the season by Starting Summer Bulbs Indoors? I encourage you to give it a try. You’ll save a little money and it kind of scratches that gardening itch when you can’t actually get outside.

Other Posts I Think You’ll Enjoy:

Seed Starting Indoors
DIY Garden Journal and Planner
Flower Gardening 101

Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you’ve gained some inspiration and ideas for making your garden the best ever this year. Feel free to hang around in the gardens for awhile. Be sure to check out 13 Winter Activities for Gardeners to get some more ideas to help you get a jump start on your summer gardens.

Happy Gardening,

p.s. Please help me out by pinning some of the pictures in this post. If you hover in the upper left-hand corner of the picture, you’ll see the Pin icon. There are more pins to share at the bottom of this post. Thanks so much!

p.p.s. For more awesome gardening ideas and some beautiful gardening eye candy, follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest.

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Image of Caladium Plants with Text Overlay - Summer Blooming Bulbs


Learn How to Jump Start Summer Blooming Bulbs







  1. I’ve in zone 6a. I love to start my tropicals indoors. It takes my el ears , caladeum, and cannas a month to get started outside !. The years I am able, I fill a bedroom full of them. The sooner I get my potted oasis the better !

    1. Hi Patty, thanks for chiming in on How to Jump Start Summer Bloom Bulbs. It really is gratifying to grow your own plants. Happy gardening, Joanna

  2. Joanna,
    Great article, very informative. I live in zone 4A and I have just bought Hosta bareroots. Have you ever started them early.
    I bought the same light that you have and was wondering which lights are best for them- the red and blue or white. Thanks for the help

    1. Sure, you can start your hosta bareroots indoors. Just don’t start them too early, you might have some fair sized plants to deal with. Honestly, I’ve never started bareroot hostas indoors, so I’m not sure which setting to use. I typically have my light set on 12-18 hours for seed starting. I’m betting you could get by with a sunny window and not even need the lights since hosta are primarily a shade plant. Good luck and let me know how your plants do. Happy gardening, Joanna

  3. I, too, start most of those bulbs you talked about – it makes February and March exciting for those of us living with bitter cold. I love caladiums, but have found they will NOT appear until the temperatures stay above 70. That means, no matter when I plant them, I don’t see them until July. I’ve never heard of a warming mat; I think I will look into that. Thank you.
    (I also save my geraniums and get them going in February too – I’ve gotten to really like February)

    1. Hi Penni – yes, definitely try heat mats. They make all the difference when starting caladium! They are tropical plants though, so they definitely don’t like outdoor temps below 50, so you still have to watch the temps when you set them out. Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

    1. Hi Cheryl – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens! It depends what gardening zone you are in as to whether or not bulbs have to be dug up in the fall and replanted the following year. For instance, in my zone 4B garden summer blooming bulbs like lilies overwinter just fine left in the ground. Other bulbs like gladiolus, begonias, canna lilies, calla lilies and dahlias need to be dug up in the fall and replanted the following spring. I hope this helps. Happy gardening! Joanna

  4. What can you do with bulbs that have started and then just stopped- how can I give them a boost to get growing again?

    1. Hi Darcy – thanks for stopping by. Sometimes, the bulbs just want heat and sunshine… they want to go outdoors. So, if you still have them indoors, make sure they are getting enough warmth and light. Secondly, you can fertilize them, but go lightly at first. Good luck and happy gardening! Joanna

      1. Thanks so much- I think I put them outside (it the little starter containers) too early…. then they got too cold and said “nope!”.
        I’ll try the fertilizer!
        Thanks so much!

  5. Joanna-
    If I don’t have a bright sunny window do I need to put potted bulbs under lights right away after potting or not until they sprout? My only sunny south window is the nursery room which doesn’t work for obvious reasons. Laura

    1. Hi Laura, I would probably wait until you see sprouts and then get them under lights. Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

    1. Mindy, I’m happy you stopped by. Get some caladium bulbs going in your polished up greenhouse. If you have one, put a heat mat under them.

  6. Great post Joanna! I do save my Canna Lily bulbs in our garage each year. I just toss them in a tote and sprinkle sand around them. It seems to do the trick. Come May I plant them directly into the ground. They bring a touch of late summer beauty to my garden. I plant Dahlias, but have not saved them. May try to do so this year. Can’t wait to get home and plant a few spring containers. Spring fever has bit!! lol!

  7. What a coincidence! I just potted up my begonias yesterday and plan on doing some cannas today. I laughed when I read about your experience with the bulbs going to the garbage. One time when the kids were small I asked them to haul the bag of potatoes that were past using out to feed the cows. Was I surprised to find the potatoes still in storage and the cannas gone. I was so glad the cows didn’t die that I couldn’t really be upset with the kids. HA!

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