How-To Project: Combining Tulips with Annuals and Perennials

by National Gardening Association Editors


Although tulips look great massed in planting beds, they look even better when combined with other bulbs, annual and perennial flowers, or shrubs. To get the best results, you'll need to consider each plant's color, bloom season, and height. Here's some combinations to get you started.

Tools and Materials

  • Bulbs
  • Annual and perennial plants
  • Shovel
  • Trowel
  • Soil amendments such as compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Hose

Tulips with other bulbs. Although a bed of red and yellow tulips is stunning, its stardom is fleeting. Why not extend the bloom season by including bulbs that will bloom before, during, and after the tulips are finished? Just remember the heights of the bulbs, and plant lower-growing ones in front of taller varieties. Some suggested combinations:

'Red Dynasty' tulip with 'Yellow Crown' fritillaria
Red 'Showwinner' tulips with 'Giant White' crocus
Pink 'Angelique' tulip with pink 'Rosy Clouds' daffodil

Tulips with annual flowers. In warm-winter areas, plant these annuals with the tulip bulbs in fall. In cold-winter areas, plant the annuals in spring as soon as you see the first tulip shoots emerge from the soil. Remember to keep low-growing annuals in front of taller tulip varieties.

Purple-white 'Shirley' tulip with white-purple-yellow 'Johnny Jump Up' violas
Red, white, yellow or purple Rembrandt tulip with white sweet alyssum
'Apricot Beauty' tulip with blue forget-me-not (Myosotis)

Tulips with perennial flowers. These combinations are low-maintenance and can be repeated every year. Perennials may need to be divided or thinned after a few years to leave room for planting tulips around them.

Black 'Queen of the Night' tulip with basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxitilis)
Pink 'Angelique' tulip with pink-white bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
'Purple Majesty' tulip with white candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
Red-white 'Mata Hari' tulip with red-white 'Nora Barlow' columbine (Aquilegia)
'Blue Parrot' tulip with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Pink 'Don Quichotte' tulip with pink creeping phlox (P. subulata)

Tulips with spring-blooming shrubs. Tulips can be stunning when planted in front of or around these shrubs. These combinations bloom around the same time in spring or have complementary foliage color.

'White Emperor' tulip with dwarf red Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Red-yellow 'King Edward' tulip with yellow forsythia
Pink 'Angelique' tulip with pink flowering almond (Prunus triloba)
'Red Emperor' tulip with white serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Care for plantings. When planting tulips with perennial flowers or shrubs, take into account the mature sizes of the perennials and shrubs. After a few years, you may neend to divide or move them. Except for species tulips, which naturalize easily, most varieties don't rebloom well, so you must replant each year.

When you plant bulbs around existing plants, be careful not to damage the root systems of the shrubs or flowers. Also, because the bulbs will be competing with the flower or shrub for water and nutrients, keep the area well fertilized and watered, especially in spring and fall. Add compost to the soil at planting time, and fertilize the bulbs with a high phosphorus and moderate to low nitrogen fertilizer.

When combining tulips with perennials, consider some perennials that, although they may not flower at the same time as the tulips, will hide the dying and yellowing foliage of the tulips when they are finished blooming. Daylilies are a good example.

Plant annuals around tulips that are just poking out of the ground. Tulips grow quickly to their flowering stage in spring, especially if temperatures are warm. If the annual flowers are already blooming, they'll be ready for the opening tulip flowers.

Tips

When combining tulips with perennials, consider some perennials that, although they may not flower at the same time as the tulips, will hide the dying and yellowing foliage of the tulips when they are finished blooming. Daylilies are a good example.

Plant annuals around tulips that are just poking out of the ground. Tulips grow quickly to their flowering stage in spring, especially if temperatures are warm. If the annual flowers are already blooming, they'll be ready for the opening tulip flowers.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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