Alliums with Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber Coccineus)Alliums with Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber Coccineus)

Mixing Perennials & Spring Blooming Bulbs To Extend The Seasons Of Color In Your Garden

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist

Many gardeners are under the impression that bulbs need to be planted into empty beds or other unplanted spaces. But this absolutely not the case. In fact, flowering bulbs are almost always found in their native habitats growing with native grasses and perennial plants. 

Thus, bulbs are excellent companion plants that fit happily into existing flower beds of perennials and groundcovers. Not only will this create more natural-looking plantings, but the bulbs and perennials work well from a timing perspective: Spring-blooms will wake up the beds early in the gardening season, and the grasses and perennials will help to hide the bulb foliage as the bulbs go dormant with the coming of summer.

Globe-shaped Alliums planted with Centranthus and other perennials at the Denver Botanic Garden.Globe-shaped Alliums planted with Centranthus and other perennials at the Denver Botanic Garden.
Globe-shaped Alliums planted with Centranthus and other perennials at the Denver Botanic Garden.
Tulips planted with low-growing Cerastium (Snow In Summer) in a sunny, dry-area garden.Tulips planted with low-growing Cerastium (Snow In Summer) in a sunny, dry-area garden.
Tulips planted with low-growing Cerastium (Snow In Summer) in a sunny, dry-area garden.
Tulips planted with Nepeta and Candytufyt (Iberis) for a colorful and full spring garden in New Mexico.Tulips planted with Nepeta and Candytufyt (Iberis) for a colorful and full spring garden in New Mexico.
Tulips planted with Nepeta and Candytufyt (Iberis) for a colorful and full spring garden in New Mexico.

Recommended Combinations

Spring-blooming bulbs are one of the easiest and most rewarding plant groups we can use to extend the flowering season in our gardens. Not only will they bring a smile to the faces of winter-weary gardeners, but these brightly colored flowers provide vital early-season nectar for native bees, honeybees, and early-to-emerge butterflies. Really, the number of pleasing flower combinations is endless when mixing bulbs into the perennial garden. 

  • The groundcover Speedwells (Veronica), with their bright blue early-to-mid-spring flowers, create a fabulous backdrop for miniature Daffodils like 'Tete-a-Tete' and 'Thalia'Crocus, miniature Iris, and Wildflower Tulips are also excellent with Speedwells.
  • Creeping Thyme is another equally beautiful groundcover to mix with bulbs like Wildflower Tulips, Crocus, and miniature Daffodils.
  • In shady areas planted with Lamium or other shade-loving groundcovers, the Spanish Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is an outstanding naturalizing bulb for mid-spring color.
  • The taller growing Darwin Hybrid Tulips and tall mid-to-late-spring blooming Daffodils will create a stunning combination when planted with other larger growing perennials.
  • Nepeta (Catmint) with its blue flowers and white-flowered Candytuft (Iberis) are two mid-spring bloomers that complement red blooming tall tulips.
  • Centranthus (Valerian or Jupiter's Beard) looks great with tall blooming Alliums. With its globe-shaped blooms and late-spring to early-summer bloom time, Alliums are a wonderful way to bridge the gap between spring-blooming bulbs and summer-blooming perennials. Plus, their spherical forms add interest to the garden long after flowers have faded.

How To Plant Bulbs Into A Perennial Garden

Planting bulbs into groundcovers is simple.

  • It's as easy as digging a hole in the soil or perennial groundcover mat and dropping some bulbs into the hole.
  • Use a bulb planter to dig a nice hole to the proper depth.
  • Mix some Yum Yum Mix into the backfill soil so the bulbs will be well fed when they wake up in the spring.
Daffodils blooming in our customer's garden. Photo by Renju M.Daffodils blooming in our customer's garden. Photo by Renju M.
Daffodils blooming in our customer's garden. Photo by Renju M.

Extend The Seasons Of Color In Your Garden

When making your bulb list to plant this fall, choose varieties with a range of bloom times, including early-, mid-, and late spring. The key is to get started, and next spring, you'll be patting yourself on the back for giving this concept a try.