Think Spring and Summer…Think Color and Variety!!! Mixing Bulbs in your garden beds

Think Spring and Summer…Think Color and Variety!!! Mixing Bulbs in your garden beds

by Jan Boone
While we have watched our summer gardens produce their final fruits, and as flowers fade from this growing season, many of us procrastinate a bit longer regarding the chores of putting our gardens to bed before the coming cooler weather.  We’d prefer to enjoy watching the yellow leaves fall, or listen with awe to bull elk bugle as they pass through the neighborhood or across a nearby meadow. Relish the changing of the seasons but consider challenging yourself to recognize the potential of creating new focal point beds and new directions in your garden for next Spring and Summer.  

Take a good look at new garden catalogs now arriving in the mail and think through the different looks you can test by combining bulbs, or rhizomes with ground covers, natives, early blooming annuals or established later season perennials.  It’s easy to accommodate new looks with variety in heights, shapes, bloom textures, leaf variations and color.   Whether in containers or beds, we all know tulips and daffodils are the traditional stars in our Spring garden. Mix it up and see what sparkles the most in your eye! 


In preparation, and before getting too detailed, let’s revisit some basic considerations you should keep in mind. We all know as Foothills gardeners, that one or more of the following factors may come into play as you are dreaming about a Springtime woodland garden!

·        Are you desiring blossoms to appear in Spring, or Summer?  Are you aware of anticipated bloom times for your beds?
·        Are you gardening in a fenced or open area?
·         Is there good water available for bulbs during dormant winter months.  You can’t rely on snow-pack alone.
·        Do you have a bed of established ground cover or low shrubbery that needs a brighter approach in anticipation of the growing season?  Watch your bloom times and adjust according to your garden needs.
·        What’s your critter population?? I’ve had raccoons dig up bulbs; fox disturb small bulb plantings as they dig to bury a treasure; rabbits to nibble on new Fritillary greenery as well as our bigger garden bandits who’ll dine on container tulips about to bloom or graze leaves off of Oriental poppies, leaving the blossoms alone and just when you think you’re safe from attack!!
·        Do you prepare your soil properly to ensure good growth? Soil nutrients are essential.
·        Do you follow proper planting depth guidelines?  Mulching may help in higher elevations, especially in dry conditions.
·        Have you considered or even tried defensive interplanting of unappetizing bulbs around your more enticing bulbs?   
Refer to CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.410 on Fall Planted Bulbs and corms for additional helpful information on proper planting depths for bulbs.          

There are five basic bulb groups, easily recognizable to home gardeners: true bulbs (Tulips, daffodils, Narcissus, and lilium), corms (crocus, freesia), rhizome (iris)s, tubers (Begonias) and tuberous roots (Dahlias).  Obviously, you’re not growing begonias in the gardens at altitude unless you have a greenhouse.  So, for the purpose of exterior applications, let’s focus on more identifiable plant combinations.  See CSU Plantalk #1011 on Selecting Bulbs as well as CSU Fact Sheet #7.406 on Mountain Flowers.

Perhaps you have some Hellebores tucked in a garden bed?? These are early bloomers while Spring snows linger, maybe Dwarf Daffodils or Snowdrops could easily pair around the Hellebore. Native Pussytoes could be complimented with Dwarf Iris or Hyacinth, Fritillary or Crocus bulbs.  White Hyacinth bulbs with Purple tinged Allium could also be a striking combination planting.  How about Paperwhites with early Bell flowers or blue Hyacinth? This is also a good time to mention that small bulbs can be a challenge in getting through dormancy to bloom.  Make sure they are a good firm quality with no visible decay or cracks.  In a planter, they may be subject to damage from winter cold.  The same is true for larger bulbs in that quality DOES count! 

Here's a good example bed from a late Spring visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens that in another version could also be enhanced by additional compatible plantings.  Despite these blooms being a tad past their peak, I thought immediately about ground covers in greens and maybe more violas that would complement the bright tulip colors and help deter too many weeds in the bed.      

Two  additional photos from the Botanical Gardens highlight combining bulbs with annuals and perennials.  I was struck by the unique mix of Hosta and viola along with smaller tulips.  This would be very striking in a shadier area of your garden and could provide good color opportunity with the tulips.

Finally, we need not to forget our early summer and Fall bulb plantings for altitude.  Warm tone Daylilies against a background of White Valerian would be a welcome addition to a patio bed.  How about Snapdragons aligned in front of Daylilies or Barberry as a perennial shrub backdrop? Oriental Poppies with Irish Moss provides a soft, lush green base to the poppy color.

I truly hope these brief ideas end on a colorful note and will inspire plus test you to be creative in trying new combinations of bulbs and plant material for 2019!  Step out of your ‘ tried and true’ way of how you think of your bulb planting.  Perhaps I’ll see you hovering over a bulb display sometime very soon and we can talk about more about combinations you’ve discovered or are planning to try.  Happy bulb hunting!
All photos by Jan Boone

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