May the bulbs be with you

The fourth week of May shows the decline of spring-blooming bulbs. It’s time to start match-making and pairing up plant material so as your tulips, daffodils and other spring-blooming bulbs age and decline they have some comfort and company. Resist the urge to cut off fading bulb foliage if you want the bulbs to return and bloom again next year.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, June 2, 2008 12:23pm
  • Life
Beautiful as they are

Beautiful as they are

The fourth week of May shows the decline of spring-blooming bulbs. It’s time to start match-making and pairing up plant material so as your tulips, daffodils and other spring-blooming bulbs age and decline they have some comfort and company. Resist the urge to cut off fading bulb foliage if you want the bulbs to return and bloom again next year.

Now is the time that dying bulb foliage is sending energy to next year’s flower. Fertilize bulbs now with a liquid plant food and they’ll pack even more wallop into the stored-up future flower supplies.

After a trip to Holland last month and a visit with top bulb growers, here are five tips to know for better spring bulbs:

1. You can tie up daffodil greens to get them out of the way of other plants, but fold the long leaves over and tie loosely with one of the leaves so air still can circulate. Once the leaves turn completely yellow, you can pull them from the bulb or cut them off at ground level.

2. Tulips are easy! Just treat them like annuals and cut them to the ground when they are done blooming. Don’t feel guilty, because tulip bulbs rarely bloom better the second year. Now you’ll have a great excuse to try new tulip varieties each spring.

3. Don’t water your bulbs in the summer. They need to dry out and go dormant for the best spring blooms.

4. If you want bulbs that will come back year after year, plant the small or minor bulbs such as grape hyacinths, dwarf daffodils, windflowers and snow drops. Remember to let the leaves ripen and turn yellow before you remove them.

5. Bulbs like the comfort of company as they die off.

Here are some great bulb-perennial marriages:

• Daffodils with Hostas: Both tolerate shade and if you plant the daffodils behind the hosta plants the messy foliage will be hidden. Hostas grow bigger and better with more summer water and daffodils like it dry in the summer, so put the hostas closer to the sprinkler or grow the daffs on top of a slight mound so they won’t have moist summer soil.

• Lady’s Mantle and tulips: Alchemilla, or Lady’s Mantle, is one tough perennial. But this lady can be a bit of a tramp, as she does some bed-hopping if you let her flowers go to seed. The leaves are rounded and a bit fuzzy, making them drought-, slug- and deer-resistant, and the pale yellow blooms are frothy and delicate. Timing is everything with this marriage of convenience, and your tulips will rise and star in the opening act of this flower show. But as they decline, the Lady’s Mantle takes over for an encore of blooms.

• Crane’s bill geranium and alliums: These are not the geraniums you see growing in clay pots, but the true geraniums that form evergreen clumps of pointed leaves and bloom with pink or purple clusters close to the ground. Crane’s bill geraniums do well in dry soil and lousy soil with full sun, so making them the bedmate of the dramatic allium or flowering onions is a perfect match. Once the alliums bloom, the floppy leaves will be hidden by the fast new growth of the Crane’s bill geraniums that spread out their blooming arms in early May. Leave the tall stems and faded, brown blooms of your alliums to dry all summer in the garden. The perfect, sphere-shaped globes of alliums are a nice complement to the low-blooming clumps of Crane’s bill. Wonder why they call this perennial geranium a Crane’s bill? Just look at the sharp seed pod that forms once the flowers fade. You’ll find it is long, narrow and pointed – just like the bill of a crane.

• Peonies and red tulips: We saw this striking combination at a show garden in Holland called Keukenhof. This huge display garden for spring bulbs is the most photographed garden in the world, with more than 75 acres of shocking beauty. By combining the wine-red stems and leaves of newly emerging peony growth with the bright red petals of late-blooming tulips, you get a dynamic duo that can’t be ignored. In a home garden setting, the perennial peonies will offer sympathy and privacy for the tulips as they decline with age. Peonies are long-lived perennials with foliage that looks good all summer, so they make great bed mates for any spring bulbs looking for a partner.

Marianne Binetti can be reached at mariannebinetti@comcast.net and P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022.


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