Inspiration for Spring Bulb Design

Ensure a colorful spring by planting these bulb combinations in fall

1. ‘Caramel’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Caramel’, Zones 4–9) 2. ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia (Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Zones 6–9) 3. ‘Orange Princess’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Orange Princess’, Zones 4–8) 4.‘Red Giant’ mustard (Brassica juncea ‘Red Giant’, annual) 5.Lettuce (Lactuca sativa cv., annual)

Fall is around the corner, and while you are probably getting ready to start decorating your garden with pumpkins and hay bales, this is also the time to think ahead—way ahead—to spring!

It’s unfortunate that right at the time the season is at its peak color, but do yourself a favor now and order your spring-blooming bulbs in preparation for planting this fall. That way you’ll have something special to look forward to this winter.

Below are some of our favorite combinations for spring plantings. For even more information, check out how to plant your bulbs so that they appear as a natural feature in the landscape in Naturalizing Spring Bulbs.


Great spring bulb combinations to plant now


Red tulips are classic and all-purpose

Tulips (Tulipa spp. and cvs.) are versatile favorites, and it’s hard to go wrong with classic red tulips. They go with virtually anything. But an underplanting of pale blue forget-me-nots might be the best thing to lift them to superstar status.

1. Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris cv., Zones 3–8)   2. ‘Jan Reus’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Jan Reus’, Zones 4–8)   3. Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica, Zones 5–9). Photo: Michelle Gervais

Upright forms, striking colors

The stiff, upright blades of Bowles’ golden sedge serve two purposes in this striking combo: They act as a contrasting backdrop for the magenta tulips, and they mimic the tulips’ upright stems, drawing even more notice to both.

1. Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’, Zones 5–9)   2. ‘Negrita’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Negrita’, Zones 4–8). Photo: Michelle Gervais

Sunshine and blue skies

You’ve been waiting so long for clear skies and the warmth of the spring sun, so celebrate them with cheery yellow tulips and pale azure forget-me-nots.

1. ‘Golden Parade’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Golden Parade’, Zones 4–8)   2. ‘Victoria Blue’ forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica ‘Victoria Blue’, Zones 5–9)   3. Rysi™ Gold wallflower (Erysimum ‘Innrysigol’, Zones 3–7). Photo: Lynn Felici-Gallant

Grape hyacinths

Another delicate play on pastels

Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp. and cvs.) may be small, but their color and texture can enhance many spring combinations. Pale blue ‘Valerie Finnis’ grape hyacinth might be overpowered by a big, bold, bright yellow daffodils, so pair it instead with a more delicate version—in both size and hue—to make a harmonious mix.

1.‘Xit’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Xit’, Zones 3–9)   2. Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 4–8)   3. ‘Hawera’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Hawera’, Zones 3–9)   4. ‘Scarlet Baby’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Scarlet Baby’, Zones 4–8). Photo: Michelle Gervais

A bouquet of spring bulbs

Bulbs are most often planted in drifts or small clumps, but sometimes it’s nice to plant an in-the-ground bouquet. Save a few bulbs from each of your plantings in fall, and pick a special spot to mix them together.

1.‘Xit’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Xit’, Zones 3–9)   2. Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 4–8)   3. ‘Hawera’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Hawera’, Zones 3–9)   4. ‘Scarlet Baby’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Scarlet Baby’, Zones 4–8). Photo: Michelle Gervais

Watch the blooms evolve

Just before a grape hyacinth blooms, its architectural flower form is most apparent. The hints of blue peeking through promise that this color-coordinated combo with poppy anemone will be even more stunning in a few days.

1. ‘Mr. Fokker’ poppy anemone (Anemone coronaria ‘Mr. Fokker’, Zones 8–11)   2. ‘Saffier’ grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum ‘Saffier’, Zones 4–8). Photo: Michelle Gervais


The flowers are fabulous even when they fade

The spherical umbels on most alliums (Allium spp. and cvs.) are striking in any spring combination. The alliums pictured below might not be colorful anymore, but the seed heads still stand out against the deep burgundy backdrop of a smokebush. As the capsules ripen, they’ll fade to beige and burst open, revealing the seeds inside.

1. ‘Ambassador’ allium (Allium ‘Ambassador’, Zones 4–8)   2. ‘Princess Victoria Louise’ Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale ‘Princess Victoria Louise’, Zones 3–9)   3. ‘Velvet Cloak’ smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’, Zones 5–9). Photo: Ann E. Stratton

Plant more than one variety

Alliums aren’t just purple. There are a few out-of-the-ordinary colors too, and it’s fun to experiment and mix them up. Planting more than one variety together lets you observe their bloom times, which will open your eyes to other pairing opportunities.

1. ‘Silver Spring’ allium (Allium ‘Silver Spring’, Zones 4–8)   2. Allium (Allium atropurpureum, Zones 3–8)   3. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, Zones 4–7)   4. Carolina geranium (Geranium carolinianum, Zones 4–8). Photo: Danielle Sherry

Bring chives out of the herb garden

If you’ve ever grown chives, you know how prolifically they reproduce. If you’re running out of room for the divisions in your herb garden, add them to your borders. Here, they echo the color of the weigela and add a vertical element to the mounding plants around them.

1. ‘Minuet’ weigela (Weigela florida ‘Minuet’, Zones 5–8)   2. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum, Zones 5–11)   3. ‘Joanna Reed’ catmint (Nepeta ‘Joanna Reed’, Zones 4–9)   4. ‘Sugar Plum’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Sugar Plum’, Zones 4–9)   5. Sedum (Sedum cv., Zones 3–11). Photo: Michelle Gervais


A spring garden party of colors

Iceland poppies in a mix of bright colors are cheerful on their own, but add some daffodils (Narcissus spp. and cvs.) and you’ve got a lively party. Pass the champagne!

1. 3D™ daffodil blend (Narcissus cvs., Zones 3–9)   2. ‘Champagne Bubbles Mix’ Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule ‘Champagne Bubbles Mix’, Zones 2–7). Photo: Lynn Felici-Gallant

A planting that evolves as the weeks go by

Daffodils typically bloom before tulips. Take advantage of this fact to create a planting that moves with the season. The daffodils emerge first and bloom just as the tulip buds start to show color. As the daffodils fade, the tulips will peak.

1. ‘Thalia’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Zones 3–9)   2. ‘Pink Diamond’ tulip (Tulipa ‘Pink Diamond’, Zones 4–8). This combination evolves as the season goes on, with the ‘Pink Diamond’ tulips brightening as the daffodils fade. Photos: Michelle Gervais (left); Lynn Felici-Gallant (right)

Bold colors, big charm

This classic daffodil is what we envision in our minds when someone says “daffodil.” It’s big, bright, and happy. Underplanting it with the speckled leaves and pink and purple blooms of a lungwort makes it pop even more. Spring is here!

1. ‘Carlton’ daffodil (Narcissus ‘Carlton’, Zones 3–9)   2. Lungwort (Pulmonaria cv., Zones 2–8). Photo: Michelle Gervais


For more spring garden inspiration, see Planting Spring Bulbs in Containers.

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  1. User avater
    TerriNPhillips 10/25/2018

    Wonderful info

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