If you remembered to plant a ton of bulbs before snowfall, congratulations! Many of us get so overwhelmed by all our other fall home and garden projects that we put off planting bulbs until we need dynamite to dig into our frozen soil.
Not that that isn't reason enough to procrastinate.
Getting your bulbs in the ground is one thing, and good on ya if you pulled it off. But if you forgot to interplant companion species, you're no better than the rest of us. And before you argue otherwise, remember who's holding the explosives.
If you've been swooning over photos depicting endless oceans of tulips, remember that those verdant fields — usually grown for the floral market or for bulb production — turn into post-apocalyptic landscapes once the petals have fallen and the leaves have begun dying back. Without cover, weeds take advantage of the bare, unshaded sun-warmed soil among your emerging and blooming bulbs.
Add some fast-growing annuals and early-waking perennials to your bulb beds to hide spent foliage, suppress weed growth, and balance texture and color in your garden. Here are some Seed Needs favorites you can start indoors from winter through early spring:
1. Annual Phlox (Phlox drummondii)
Spring blooming phlox varieties bridge the gap between low-profile, tiny-flowered groundcovers and tall spring bulb and tuber species. They're very easy to grow from seed and they're black-thumb-tolerant. Plant them in full sun for fuller, more colorful mounds of white, pink, lilac, red, or magenta blooms against narrow, bright green foliage. You'll find annual phlox varieties as diminutive as four inches in height to as tall as three feet, but most range between six and eight inches with up to a two-foot spread.
Phlox are popular container and rock garden plants, and they're hardier than they look. With deadheading and intermittent watering, they'll bloom well into summer.
2. Baby's Breath (Gypsophila)
Gypsophila grows taller than most of our favorite bulb companions, but their airy stalks and foliage and tiny white or pink blooms aren't at all overpowering. They enhance the transition zone between taller bulbs and mounding groundcovers and fill in the space surrounding towering tulips and other sun-loving bulb plants. The drawback? They're not as good as hiding bulb dieback.
We suggest baby's breath as a companion for sun-loving bulb plants that bloom late spring through early summer: Dahlias, gladiolas, late-blooming tulips, and irises, for example. Gypsophila plants, if deadheaded, will continue to flower well into September.
3. Basket of Gold Alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis)
As you'll discover later in this post, most of our favorite ground covers bear flowers in pink, red, or purple hues. This early-blooming alyssum variety is a must-have recruit for your bulb companion tag team.
These low-growing, bright yellow beauties are herbaceous perennials, though they're most often grown as annuals. Typical Aurinia saxatilis has a growth range between six and 12 inches high and 12 to 18 inches wide, with clusters of small sunshine-yellow blossoms that start in mid-April and continue through May in most climates.
Basket of Gold alyssum tolerates dry soils but requires full sun. If you start them indoors, be sure to use peat pots as they don't transplant particularly well.
4. Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
You don't often find columbines included on spring bulb companion lists, but that's because most other gardening blogs aren't as awesome as ours. Columbine leaves are gently scalloped and held aloft in drifting layers, perfectly complementing the severe upward, spiky growth common to most bulb foliage. Columbine flowers resemble those of daffodils, but their color displays vary widely in both hue and pattern.
Most columbines don't bloom until their second year, so these aren't the best candidates for procrastinating gardeners. If you already have established Aquilegia plants, though, you're in luck — just plant your bulbs among them! Pair nodding columbine varieties with bulb plants that bear upward-facing flowers, and vice-versa. Plant columbines with sun-loving species, or use smaller varieties on the fringes of shade zones. Be bold with your color combinations!
5. Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
T. serpyllum doesn't begin to bloom until late May or early June, but its low-growing foliage works very well with early-emerging crocus. Creeping thyme can grow up to six inches in height, but the bulk of its mass rarely tops three. It's hardy, tolerating poor soils and light foot traffic, and if it's grown in full sun, creeping thyme's foliar mats will grow densely enough to block most weeds — while letting the spiky, tender leaves of smaller bulb species pass right on through.
These tough little plants need at least four hours of full sunlight, but in relation to other herbaceous ground covers, it tolerates marginal shade. Start your creeping thyme seeds indoors from seed in wintertime and trim back established plants each spring to keep them tidy.
6. Candytuft (Iberis umbellata)
Candytuft's two-inch-wide flat umbrels and soft, pillowy, spreading profile complement taller, mid-to-late spring bulb plants. This annual grows up to 16 inches in height and generally blooms late May or early June, continuing through September provided it gets enough water delivered to its taproot. Even if the white or pastel lavender blooms don't open at the same time as your bulbs, the graceful foliage will fill in around emerging leaves.
Heat-loving candytuft will tolerate light frost and poor soils, and it's ideal in rock gardens or along walls where stored warmth will encourage the earliest growth.
7. Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
Not all bulb plants love full sun, and those that prefer to hang out in transitional lighting zones or even deeper shade work well with L. maculatum. Spotted dead nettle's grown as much for its variegated, green and white leaves. The two-lipped flowers may be purple, lilac, pink, or white, and the plant grows in a clumping, infinitely sprawling form up to eight inches tall.
Try spotted dead nettle with muscaria, snowdrops, or any other shade-tolerant bulb, tuber, or corm species. It's an herbaceous perennial with a long bloom time, opening up in May and continuing to July in cooler regions. Cut back foliage when it begins to thin out to keep it vigorous through the summer.
8. Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)
Tiny moss rose plants (also called by their genus name, portulaca) only grow about three to six inches in height but spread in a clumping habit to 14 inches across. The most popular portulaca mixes include ruffled, carnation-shaped blooms in a variety of cheerful colors: pale yellow, salmon, orange, fuschia, and white. Moss rose is a succulent, and its blunt yet spiky, slightly waxy, deep green leaves resemble those of rosemary.
Moss rose needs sun and 70-degree temperatures to bloom and grows best with late spring to early summer species, but if you water them when the weather turns hot, they'll bloom until frost and welcome your fall-flowering bulbs.
9. Oriental Poppy (Papaver spp.)
Nobody pairs Oriental poppies with tulips for the sake of hiding the latter's spent foliage. Both plants bear flowers on stems that tower above the bulk of their foliage, and they more or less look horrible when they drop their petals. Still, there's the "hold my beer, watch this" thrill of planting Oriental poppies among your taller bulb plants, particularly when there's a striking contrast between colors. Oriental poppy stems and foliage are covered in fine peachfuzz, offsetting the smooth and sometimes shiny leaves and stems on bulb species.
Try some of these with your tulips this year:
- Peony poppies (P. paeoniflorum): Double- or triple-flowered blooms, typically in pink to deep red wine hues
- Iceland poppies (P. nudicale): Single-flowered, broad-blooming poppies in vivid shades of gold and orange. These are stunning when interplanted with purple tulips.
Oriental poppies bloom in May and June, but so do most of the taller bulb varieties that look best in their company.
10. Rock Cress (Aubrieta deltoidea)
Cascading plants like rock cress provide a gorgeous transition between vertical bulb plants and vertical walls and container sides. The perennial groundcover has dense, semi-evergreen foliage, making it ideal for suppressing weeds without holding back emerging bulb leaves. Purple rock cress is the most popular of the 25 or so aubrieta species, forming six-inch-high, 24-inch wide mounding mats. The early-flowering groundcover is striking when paired with April-blooming daffodils, and the blooms last about six weeks, tapering off in late May or early June. The attractive foliage remains throughout the season.
Rock cress, once established, is frost-tolerant and very popular in Rocky Mountain gardens. If you didn't get them started last year, you're still good; it's best to plant fast-growing rock cress seeds a few weeks before the last frost or start them indoors to transplant plugs.
Create Your Bulb Garden Designs with Seed Needs
Get creative with your color and texture palette, and take tons of notes and pictures to help you plan for subsequent seasons. Combinations that look stunning in one person's Instagram story might not work in your own microclimate, especially if you haven't looked after your soil nutrients, or you planted old, stale seeds that take longer to get established if they germinate at all. And that's the perfect segue to plug our collection of fresh, high-quality garden seeds.
Browse our catalog and gardening blog for divine inspiration, and contact us if you'd like us to help play matchmaker with your favorite garden bulbs!