If you’re like most gardeners, your mailbox overflows each fall with flower bulb catalogs, tempting you with stunning tulips and dazzling daffodils. Bulb companies know we need a burst of blooming spring beauty after enduring the cold, dark days of winter. After all, who doesn’t love the first spring snowdrop or cute crocus? Fall is the ideal time to plant spring bulbs—but it’s also the perfect season to add perennials to your garden mix. While we eagerly anticipate the beautiful blooms of bulbs and love showing off our spring flowers on Instagram, the ugly reality quickly follows: senescing foliage, the necessary evil of growing bulbs. Perennials to the rescue—the perfect combination with spring bulbs!
What Is Senescing Foliage?
As bulb blooms fade, their green foliage begins to turn an unsightly yellow and brown. Unfortunately, the bulb relies on the foliage to feed it—absorbing energy that nourishes the bulb, which it stores to produce next year’s flowers. While the senescing foliage looks messy and unattractive in the garden, it’s important to let it remain in place until it fully dies back. Once the leaves turn completely brown, you can snip the dead foliage and tidy the garden.
Fortunately, perennials planted among your flower bulbs help create a beautiful garden diversion, cloaking the dying bulb foliage with lovely, fresh growth. Perennials are the perfect partners for bulbs, helping to:
Hide Senescing Bulb Foliage
As bulb foliage fades, perennials’ new spring growth and flowers cover the dying leaves. Choose perennials tall enough to create a green “skirt” around the bulbs to mask the dying foliage.
Extend the Bloom Season
While we eagerly await the first daffodil blooms, delighting in fresh flowers after months of cold, bulbs offer short-lived joy in the garden. Add long-lasting perennials as companions to spring bulbs to create color, texture, and interest for multi-season garden pleasure. Choose perennials that bloom after the spring bulbs, selecting plants with staggered flowering times and seasons, to ensure garden interest throughout the year.
Add Contrasting or Complementary Foliage Texture
Pairing early season perennials with spring flowering bulbs gives you the chance to play with foliage combinations. Whether you choose to add perennials with foliage similar to the bulbs, like the narrow leaves of Amsonia Blue Star with daffodils, or prefer the contrasting fern-like foliage of Dicentra ‘Spring Magic’ with the narrow leaves of Leucojum, perennials play prettily with bulb foliage.
Create Interesting Color Combinations
Do you prefer a soothing, singular color repetition in your garden or vibrant hues that add excitement to the landscape? Perennials can provide either complementary or analogous colors to your spring bulb plantings. If you like a calming, elegant monochromatic garden, try blending bulbs and perennials with singular colors, like the pink flowers of ‘Pink Impression’ tulips with Dianthus ‘Lionheart’ and Bergenia ‘Maikind’. Or choose vibrant plantings with complementary blooms—colors found directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Typically, complementary colors include yellow/purple, red/green, and blue/orange. Bright yellow ‘King Alfred’ Narcissi paired with perennials Centaura ‘Amethyst Dream’ andLupinus ‘Persian Slipper’ makes a pretty complementary planting, for instance.
Add Depth and Interest with Layers
Professionally designed spring gardens often blend bulbs with early blooming perennials, adding layers of colors and texture to beds and borders. Stagger heights, with tall bulbs, like Allium, Camassia, or Dutch Iris in the back of borders, along with perennials like Cortedaria selloana ‘Pink Phantom’ pampas grass or Buddleja ‘Butterfly Heaven’; medium bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth in the middle of the bed with Dicentra ‘Spring Gold’ or Geranium ‘Red Admiral’; and low-growing bulbs, such as crocus, muscari, and snowdrops in front with Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ or Geranium LaVeta Lace®.
Perennials and bulb pairings that perform beautifully together in a layered landscape include:
Narcissus ‘Pistachio’ with Achillea ‘Ritzy Rose’: The soft yellow of ‘Pistachio’ contrasts nicely with the deep rose-colored yarrow flowers that mature to pink with a lighter eye. Or try Achillea ‘Little Moonshine’ for a monochromatic combination with yellow daffodils.
Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Aida’ with Penstemon ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’: As the purple blooms of ‘Aida’ fade, the dark green foliage of ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ obscures the fading hyacinth leaves, while continuing the purple hues in the garden all summer long.
Narcissus ‘Frosty Snow’ with Phlox Paniculata ‘Shortwood’: As the white flowers of ‘Frosty Snow’ melt away, the bright pink phlox flowers with dark pink eyes take over, adding brightness to the bed. Best of all, ‘Shortwood’ is highly resistant to powdery mildew, providing a long summer of beautiful blooms.
Tulips with Geranium Rozanne®: Depending on your preference, a pairing of ‘Rozanne’ with late-blooming, violet-blue ‘Fostery King’ tulip for a monochromatic planting or deep red, complementary tulip ‘Kingsblood’ make for a gorgeous spring show. As the tulips fade, ‘Rozanne’ continues to bloom throughout the spring and summer…and keeps going until the first frost.
Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’ with Brunnera macrophylla ‘Little Jack’: With pretty, light blue spring blooms on both plants, ‘Little Jack’ produces stunning foliage from spring through frost—the perfect cover for fading bulb foliage.
When you plan your spring garden, play with pairings. Pick your favorite bulbs, paying attention to bloom time, height, and light needs, then take a look at our Rozanne & Friends perennials to find your favorite companions. While the combinations above work well together, personalize your space by choosing colors, flowers, and fragrance you enjoy. Select plants that help mask the fading foliage of your preferred tulips and daffodils to keep your garden looking lush and lovely all season long.
We all love spring blooming bulbs, and perennials make the perfect companions to these short-lived spring beauties.
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