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Annuals can hide the dying foliage of perennials

Annuals can hide the dying foliage of perennials

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Once the blossoms of spring-flowering bulbs begin to fade, tidy gardeners have a terrible time. Snapping off the old blossoms isn't difficult. But waiting up to 10 weeks for the bulbs' foliage to die a natural death-that's what drives them crazy.

For the sake of future flowers, horticulturists frown on most of the plans concocted by fastidious gardeners to disguise their bulbs' yellowing leaves. The experts nix the idea of braiding daffodil leaves or tying tulip foliage into neat little packages. But the plant police won't object if you use other plants to hide your bulbs' foliage.

For a quick fix, try planting annuals between the bulbs. Look for easy-care plants like geranium or lantana that won't require frequent watering; dormant bulbs can rot in summer if you keep the soil too wet.

Better yet, you can depend on self-seeding annuals to do the job. Larkspur and melampodium are two of my favorites. After planting them once, years ago, I know I can depend on them to come up every year in the bulb bed, ready to mask the yellowing foliage.

The dying leaves of short plants such as grape hyacinth, species tulips or small alliums are easy to disguise. Simply plant these bulbs under a groundcover such as ajuga or lamium. But a groundcover doesn't do much for hiding the foliage of daffodils, most tulips or giant alliums. They need taller plants to hide behind.

When it comes to finding perennial partners for bulbs, the trick is to combine plants with similar cultural requirements. Prairie natives such as false indigo (Baptisia) and butterfly milkweed are perfect because, once established, they seldom require supplemental watering and never need to be dug up and divided.

I once made the mistake of planting daylilies over daffodil bulbs. It looked great, until the daylilies grew crowded. As I dug and divided the daylilies, I couldn't avoid slicing into many of the bulbs beneath. Far better, I realized, to plant bulbs with perennials that prefer to grow undisturbed.

Nowadays, my favorite perennial partners for bulbs include two super spring bloomers: willow bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), with starry pale blue flowers and willow-like foliage; and cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma), which offers bright yellow bracts in spring. Both thrive in full sun or partial shade and perform perfectly without dividing for many years. In autumn, both brighten the fall garden with their colorful foliage.

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