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GardenSMART :: Landscaping with Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Landscaping with Spring-Blooming Bulbs

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

When tweaking the design of my garden, I often forget to include spring-blooming bulbs in my overall plan. I adore them, but for me they're usually a spontaneous purchase at the big box store. I tuck them here and there, wherever there's an open patch of ground instead of designing an intentional planting plan. Then in spring I wonder what I was thinking when I put the orange tulips where I did, since they overwhelm the pale yellow daffodils I planted years back.

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So when tulips or daffodils beckon from their displays, don't do what I do and reach for those mesh bags without a plan! Think ahead about where to plant them to create the greatest impact, how their colors and sizes will complement your garden's herbaceous plants, trees and shrubs, and the way they will look as they fade and die.

Here are a few design ideas to consider when choosing and planting spring bulbs:

Think in clusters of color. Repeating bulb varieties and colors creates a rhythm that is pleasing to the eye. For tulips and daffodils, start with 10 or 12 of the same variety and color and work up depending on the size of your garden and your wallet. Small bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinth and scilla should be planted in larger numbers, as many as 50 for the biggest wow factor. Planting the same color and variety of bulb in multiples gives the most satisfying effect. Don't intermix, say, yellow and red tulips unless they bloom at different times.

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Site them right. In flowerbeds, stagger the plantings so one group of flowering bulbs leads the eye to the next. Plant shorter, smaller-flowered bulbs like crocus next to entryways, patios, along pathways, and at the front of flowerbeds where they are most visible. Species tulips like 'Lilac Wonder' coming up through groundcover can add interest to what is usually an expanse of boring green.

Think about the colors, heights and textures of the surrounding herbaceous plants growing during or after the bulbs are finished, and choose bulbs that complement them. Tall 'Purple Sensation' alliums are striking emerging from a bed of hosta or astilbe, because the round flower heads provide great contrast with these plants' foliage.

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The view from indoors. Although there are places in the U.S. where bulbs grow year-round, in most of the country they start appearing while it's too cold to comfortably spend much time outdoors. Look out your windows for places to plant bulbs where you can appreciate them from inside the house. The brilliantly colored Giant Darwin Hybrid tulips, with tall stems and large flower heads, are eye-catching even from a distance.

Timing. When choosing bulbs, especially tulips and daffodils, don't just think what color, but also "when" color. You can stretch the bloom season out for months if you plant varieties that bloom in early, mid- and late spring. For example: 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' and 'February Gold' are two of the earliest daffodils, blooming alongside crocus. 'Ice Follies' and tiny 'Jack Snipe' bloom mid-spring. The fragrant Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, the pheasant's eye daffodil, blooms latest, in late May or even early June.

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Camouflage. Bulb foliage has to wither and die naturally, and not cut or mown while still green. If there's no foliage to photosynthesize and recharge the bulb for next year, there won't be flowers. Managing fading foliage can be tricky, since you want to see the flowers, but not have floppy, tattered leaves stealing focus from other plants coming into bloom later.

Plant bulbs where their foliage is covered by the leaves of other plants. Fast growing annuals like petunias are ideal, as are hostas and peonies. Daffodils and daylilies are a good combo, because their foliage is similar. Since bulbs need dry ground in summer, don't combine them with plants with high water needs.

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Go for glory. If you have the space, planting lots – as in hundreds – of bulbs will provide a wow factor you'll look forward to all year. The best bulb choices for this type of planting are those that multiply naturally, like daffodils, grape hyacinth and glory-of-the-snow. Tulips – other than species tulips, which do multiply – are not a good choice, since they don't often look as good as they do the first year.

What's nice about planting spring-flowering bulbs is that all the labor is done in the fall. By the time the bulbs start coming up, your hard work is forgotten (and if you're like me, where you planted them as well), so their appearance is like a gift (or a surprise).

Which leads me to a final tip: Take pictures of the freshly planted bulbs so you remember where they are! 


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