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Cornell’s Combinations: Camouflaging Spring Bulb Foliage

Unless the foliage of other perennials grows up to mask the bulb foliage as it decays, the garden looks a mess.

cornells combos-edit

Photo: Courtesy of Cornell University Department of Horticulture

Tulip 'Queen of Night' with Sedum 'Matrona'

Flower gardeners have always wrestled with the problem of how to camouflage the foliage of spring bulbs after they finish blooming.

The bulb foliage must be left in place to wither naturally so that the bulbs can store food for their next year’s bloom. Braiding the foliage of the bulbs is not the answer.

Combining other plants with the bulbs is the only really workable solution. Professor William Miller is the Director of Cornell University’s Flower Bulb Research Program. His team studied combinations of bulbs and other perennials across four seasons of trials on Cornell’s Ithaca campus, which is located in Zone 5.The complete results of the scientific findings of which combinations worked best can be found on the University website.

For example, one winning combination is Narcissus ‘ Fortissimo’ with the oriental poppy ‘Turkenlouis’. The poppy flowers later than the daffodil so its foliage covers the spent daffodil leaves. Thus, daffodils and poppies are good combinations in a bed. Another plant to combine with daffodils is phlox paniculata. Tulips combine well with perennial (cranesbill) geraniums, such as geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’ that has purple flowers. Another winner, especially when paired with purple tulips, is lamb’s ears. Also tulips of any hue work beautifully with white bleeding heart.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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  • Last best place

    I learned from White Flower Farms to combine daffodils with daylilies, and it works beautifully.  You can choose the daffodils & daylilies you prefer for your garden and plant them together, interspersing the daffodil bulbs with the daylily pips, or if you already have one or the other in your garden, when you decide to divide & transplant, you can add the other.  The daffodils bloom early, then the daylily leaves completely cover the dying leaves of the daffodil as they grow in.  THe daylily leaves have their own beauty, then bloom later in the season.   

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