How to Plant Bulbs and Perennials Together

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Some gardeners believe bulbs need to be planted in an empty pot or flower bed, ready to emerge without competition for attention, light or moisture. However, this isn’t the case. Think about where you see bulbs growing when you’re out walking. Daffodils, tulips and snowdrops are all found growing among grasses and woodlands, so there’s no reason why they can’t be paired alongside other plants in the garden too.

In fact, planting bulbs and perennials together can create an eye-catching and unique show while maximising garden space. Here’s how to do it.

Planting Bulbs in Perennial Borders

Planting bulbs alongside perennials doesn’t just add colour and texture to beds, borders and containers, it also helps make the best use of a small space. Planning the look you hope to achieve means you can mix and match short perennials with tall bulbs, creating plenty of height interest throughout the season.

Choose Bulbs with a Variety of Flowering Times

Staggering bulbs means your garden will always be brimming with blooms of vibrant colour. Take stock of what’s already in your garden and plant bulbs to fill the gaps. For example, you may have lots of spring blooming bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, but by planting allium and freesias, you’ll extend your garden’s flowering period well into summer. Autumn and winter blooming bulbs complete the cycle for year-round garden colour interest.

Combine Colours Wisely

Speaking of colour, it’s important to choose plants that complement each other. Pick a colour scheme for each season and stick to it. You don’t have to limit your choices to just one colour but be mindful that you don’t end up with a clashing mess.

Separate the outdoor space in your mind’s eye and choose your colour schemes for each part of the garden. Don’t be afraid of too much colour – a rainbow of flowers is an eye-catching sight.

When to Plant Bulbs

One mistake rookie gardeners often make is not planning far enough ahead. Bulbs need time to ‘settle’ in the soil before they emerge from the ground. As a general rule, bulbs should be planted in the opposite season from when they flower. So, for example:

Spring flowering bulbs, including tulip and crocus, should be planted in autumn.

Summer flowering bulbs, including begonia and lily, should be planted in late winter to early spring.

Autumn flowering bulbs, including nerine and hesperantha, should be planted in late spring.

Winter flowering bulbs, including snowdrops and early daffodil, should be planted in late spring to early summer.

Container Maintenance

Of course, not all perennials and bulbs need to be planted in the ground. Many grow well in pots and are excellent for brightening up a patio, driveway or entrance in a container garden.

Container maintenance is slightly different than looking after plants in the ground. For a start, the soil dries out faster, so plants in pots need to be watered more frequently than their counterparts in the ground. Ensure the pot has adequate holes in the bottom for drainage and consider using using pot feet to hold the container above the ground. Doing this helps prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged and allows excess moisture to drain freely from the soil.

Hide Fading Foliage

As bulbs die back, perennials can hide the fading bulb foliage out of sight before its time to cut them back. Hostas and peonies are ideal for covering spent bulbs after the flowers fade, whether they’re planted in a large container or a border.

How to Plant Bulbs in Layers

Have you ever heard of bulb lasagne? Rather than being a plant-based version of the classic Italian dish, bulb lasagne is a method of layering bulbs.

Different bulbs need to be planted at different depths, so it makes sense to layer them to maximise space and create a never-ending display of flowers. Big bulbs with the latest bloom times are planted at the bottom and as the shoots head towards the surface, they’ll manoeuvre around the spring bulbs above.

Cover the first lot of bulbs with 2-3 inches of soil before planting the next layer. Choose no more than 3 bulb types for each large pot. For longer blooms, pick bulbs with staggered flowering times. Alternatively, choose 2-3 varieties of the same flower.

Use a Bulb Planter

You may be understandably wary about digging holes in perennial beds and borders. After all, the last thing you want to do is destroy shrubs and perennials by slicing through the plant’s roots. This is where a bulb planter comes in. This handy garden tool allows you to make a hole just slightly larger than bulb, so you can easily place bulbs between other plants. Bulb planters also help to ensure bulbs are planted at the right depth for healthy growth. They are available as hand-help or long-handled tools and are incredibly easy to use.

Top Tips

If you’re unsure how deep to place a bulb, it’s always better to cover the bulb with more soil rather than have it too shallow.

Choose the right setting. Some bulbs, such as tulips prefer a sunny spot, while others, like daffodils are happy enough in more shady areas.

As a general rule, plant bulbs a width apart. So in one pot the top layer will have more bulbs than the first layer at the bottom.

Water bulbs well after planting, and ensure the soil doesn’t completely dry out.

The first bulbs emerging from the ground are a sure sign that warmer days are on the way and spring is just around the corner. Whether they’re placed in pots or beds, early bulbs can help bridge the gap between a bare winter and spring perennials bursting into life. Planting perennials and bulbs together is a great way to make the most of your garden space and create a unique display of foliage and flowers.

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