1. By: Russell Stafford

    Tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs pair well as long as their heights and bloom times are complementary. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Spring-blooming bulbs are one of gardening’s cheapest and easiest thrills.  Not only do they provide loads of flowers at a minimum of cost, they also make splendid partners for other spring-blooming perennials and bulbs.  Here are some beautiful partnerships to consider as you plan (and plant) for spring.

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

    Snowdrops and winter aconite make great early spring partners in the garden. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are clump-forming woodlanders that burst into bloom during the first mild days of the year, often before the last patches of snow have melted.  The strappy leaves and white, green-blotched flowers of snowdrops grow from small, daffodil-like bulbs that repel rodents.  The nobbly underground tubers of winter aconites are also pest-resistant, while their sunny-yellow buttercup blooms attract bees.  Purchased Eranthis tubers are often hopelessly desiccated, so it pays to shop around for a reliable source.  A more sure-fire way of establishing winter aconites is to scatter freshly collected seed in early summer.

    February Gold daffodils are surrounded by small blue Siberian squill and glory-od-the-snow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.), and early daffodils (Narcissus spp.).  Lavish drifts of small blue flowers carpet the ground under spreading branches laden with purple-pink, waterlily blooms.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  Although individually small, Siberian squill and glory of the snow self-sow into large, carefree colonies that flower in tandem with Magnolia × soulangiana and early daffodils such as ‘February Gold’, forming a classic early-spring garden scene.  These little bulbs also partner splendidly with the white flowers of star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata) and the yellow blooms of early daffodils (including ‘Little Gem’).  They’re at their best in full to partial sun and humus-rich soil.

    Tommy crocus naturalize to create blankets of color that complements early blooming shrubs.

    Tommy crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus), Arnold Promise witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), and hellebores (Helleborus spp.).  Most crocuses are squirrel fodder.  One notable exception is the Tommy crocus, which not only persists in the garden, but naturally spreads via self-sowing.  It’s also one of the earliest crocuses, opening its silver-blue flowers in late winter, at the same time that the spidery yellow petals of Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ unfurl.  These early-blooming crocus flourish in light shade and humus-rich soil, and glow most brightly when backlit by sun.  ‘Arnold’ grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, so give it room!

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

    Narcissus ‘Stratosphere’ looks great planted alongside Camassia and grape hyacinth. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), daffodils (Narcissus spp.), and camass (Camassia spp.).  The chubby, sky-blue, steepled flowers of grape hyacinths are the perfect foil for the cheerful, dancing blooms of daffodils.  This pest-free, sun-loving combo hits its stride in April with the midseason daffodils (such as ‘Minnow’ and ‘Fortissimo’), and continues into May as the Jonquilla hybrids and other late daffs make their entrance.  To keep the blue-and-yellow theme going through mid-May, add some camassias (such as Camassia cusickii or Camassia leichtlinii).

    Tulips and daffodils are one of the best bulb combinations if you choose varieties that bloom together.

    Tulips (Tulipa spp.) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are perfect for pairing, as long as the cultivars chosen bloom at the same time (good bulb catalogs will indicate bloom times).  Tulips are anything but pest-free, attracting bulb-eating rodents and bud-munching deer.  One of the best ways of limiting the carnage is to densely interplant them with daffodils, which most pests actively dislike.  Of course, the primary reason for combining the two is that they make such beautiful music together.  Starting in very early spring with the early daffodils and “species tulips”, and continuing until the late double-flowered tulips and Jonquilla hybrids bow out in May, they offer any number of enchanting combinations for sunny sites.

    Spring Bulb Containers

    Pansies are a great compliment to tulip containers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Another way to protect and combine tulips is to grow them in pots, which can be mixed and matched with containers of other spring-bloomers, such as pansies and small daffodils.  Plant the bulbs an inch or two below the surface in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Potting Mix in late fall or early winter.  When sub-30 temperatures arrive, move the pots to a protected location (such as an attached garage) where temperatures stay mostly between 30 and 50 degrees.  Water lightly whenever the soil appears dry.  For added protection from rodents, place the pots in a critter-proof crate or cover them with hardware cloth (or something equally chew-proof).  Move them to an unprotected location in late winter when low temperatures are no longer dipping into the low 20s.  Once they’ve re-adapted to the outdoors, combine them with other spring-bloomers in a larger container for a custom-designed display.

    Bulb Care and Planting

    Extra-deep planting sometimes works as a tulip-protection strategy.  Rather than the usual 4- or 5-inches deep, plant the bulbs with their tops 8 or more inches below the surface.  Better yet, dig a 10-inch-deep trench, place the bulbs, bury them under a couple inches of soil, and install a barrier of hardware cloth before backfilling.  Mulch the area with leaves or pine needles to mask the freshly disturbed soil from inquisitive squirrels.  It’s a lot of work, but if it allows you to grow and combine tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Blue Heron’ with impunity, it may be worth it.

    A bit of dreaming and bulb-planting in fall can result in glorious garden displays for many springs to come!

    Tulipa tarda and Muscari latifolium bloom together in beautiful harmony. (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

    About Russell Stafford


    Hortiholic and plant evangelist Russell Stafford transplanted his first perennial at age 7, and thereby began a lifelong addiction. He is founder, owner, webmaster, nursery manager, propagator, shipping and telemarketing supervisor, data entry specialist, custodian, and all other positions at Odyssey Bulbs (and Odyssey Perennials), an on-line micronursery specializing in cool and uncommon plants. He also works as a plantsman and horticultural consultant specializing in the naturalistic and the obscure, and as a freelance writer and editor. He formerly served as curator and head of horticulture at Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles, Michigan; as horticultural program coordinator at the Center for Plant Conservation (then located at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts); and in various other horticultural capacities. His academic degrees include a masters in forest science from Harvard University. He lives, works, and plays with plants in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. Russell is a former editor at www.learn2grow.com and a frequent contributor to gardening magazines including Horticulture and The American Gardener.

    Content Disclaimer:

    This site may contain content (including images and articles) as well as advice, opinions and statements presented by third parties. Sun Gro does not review these materials for accuracy or reliability and does not endorse the advice, opinions, or statements that may be contained in them. Sun Gro also does not review the materials to determine if they infringe the copyright or other rights of others. These materials are available only for informational purposes and are presented “as is” without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including without limitation warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. Reliance upon any such opinion, advice, statement or other information is at your own risk. In no event shall Sun Gro Horticulture Distribution, Inc. or any of its affiliates be liable to you for any inaccuracy, error, omission, fact, infringement and the like, resulting from your use of these materials, regardless of cause, or for any damages resulting there from.