Concealing Leaves for Bulbs

by | Sep 22, 2022

Planting with bulbs is an exciting activity because there is so much colour to look forward to next spring! After the blooms finish, however, the foliage must be left to die down naturally so that the bulb can prepare itself for the following year. Many gardeners become irritated by these withering daffodil and tulip leaves though, so much so that it turns some folks off from planting bulbs altogether (which is a shame!). Instead of seeing this as a negative, we’d like to offer some suggestions on how to turn this ‘ugly duckling’ period into a beautiful one!

The most obvious solution is to group bulb plantings in pockets where they can make their wonderful display and then die back without disrupting the entire garden.  If you can camouflage them among other plants, so much the better. Secondly, by adding copious amounts of sand when you plant the bulbs, they will not only naturalize more easily but will also die back more quickly. The most creative and effective way to enhance a display of spring bulbs is to plant them in combination with shrubs. With a little imagination, you can come up with great combinations that give your garden a new look, conceal dying foliage and make certain locations work overtime to keep that colour coming.

Minter Country Garden-British Columbia-Concealing Leaves for Bulbs-winter heather

Flowering shrubs are a natural for companion planting with bulbs. The combination of miniature blue Iris reticulata with the yellow blooming winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) is a winner. Winter heather is a natural for bulb combinations because it flowers from November until late April, and then it flushes out with lots of new growth to screen diminishing bulb foliage. Winter heather looks particularly nice with miniature narcissus too! Early blooming ‘Star Magnolias’ (Magnolia stellata) could be greatly enhanced with an underplanting of white narcissus like ‘Ice Follies’.  When the leaves flush out on the magnolia, they would nicely conceal the narcissus leaves. 

Larger magnolias should not be left out either. ‘Saucer Magnolias’ (M. soulangiana), that often lose their big blossoms prematurely due to heavy spring winds or rains, would be greatly enhanced by an underplanting of beautiful salmon coloured ‘Angelique’ tulips. 

Flowering quince (chaenomelis) looks spectacular in any spring garden, but a surrounding planting of early double tulips could be a real classy touch.

Peach-toned tulips around white or pink flowering quince, and yellow-toned tulips around the orange and scarlet varieties would look terrific.

Minter Country Garden-British Columbia-Concealing Leaves for Bulbs-flowering quince

White spiraeas offer all sorts of opportunities with red tulips. Spiraea thunbergii would be a knockout with the early tulip, ‘Red Emperor’. The mid-season ‘Snow Mound’ (S. nipponica tosaensis) would look great with red ‘Darwin’ tulips, and the late-flowering ‘Bridal Wreath’ spirea (S. arquta) would be nice combined with a red lily-flowering tulip. Spiraeas are great for covering up tulip foliage.  

Minter Country Garden-British Columbia-Concealing Leaves for Bulbs-pink and red tulips

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Don’t forget about broad-leafed plants either. One of the most overlooked sun or shade loving plant is the ‘Oregon Grape’ (Mahonia aquifolium). Its yellow flowers and green holly-like foliage would combine beautifully with the soft yellow daffodil ‘Carlton’.  Euonymus ‘Emerald n’ Gold’ and white/green ‘Gaiety’ provide a wonderful opportunity for tulip planting too. Bright coloured early single or trumpet tulips could be underplanted for a delightful effect each spring. If the new growth was left untrimmed, it would cover dying tulip foliage, and then both could be pruned at once to save time.

Long-blooming, low-growing shrubs like potentillas and dwarf spiraeas offer tremendous potential for daffodil and tulip plantings. The red, white, orange and pink blossoms that begin in late April can provide a neat contrast for late flowering varieties of bulbs, or the green foliage can offer a backdrop, then cover for the flowers and leaves.

Minter Country Garden-British Columbia-Concealing Leaves for Bulbs-hostas in garden

Hostas and ferns also provide good foliage cover for daffodil and tulip leaves in areas with morning or dappled sunshine.

Frankly, the potential for fabulous combinations is unlimited. This fall, please take a new look at the opportunities for using your tulip and narcissus bulbs to enhance your existing trees and shrubs. In doing so, you not only create a new dimension in colour schemes, you can also conceal the foliage that too often can spoil the fresh look of your spring gardens.