It’s that untidy time of the year again. Do you despair of the messy, dying foliage, all that’s left of the bulbs that delighted us in spring?
As we know, to remove it would be to deprive the bulbs of nutrients they needed to form the embryos of next spring’s flowers. So what can we do to hide those leaves and improve the appearance of the garden? Are there suitable plants to camouflage dying bulb foliage? Fortunately, there are plenty.
Here are some things to consider when choosing camouflaging plants:
- If the plant is a perennial the timing of its growth should be compatible with that of the bulb. It should be fast enough to cover browning foliage, but not too fast: it should allow the foliage sufficient time to supply the nutrients that the bulb needs before covering it.
- The plant should grow large enough to cover or disguise the bulb foliage. For instance, it would need to be quite tall to cover the foliage from a large narcissus.
Some Suggested Plants to Camouflage Dying Bulb Foliage
Here are some often used plants. You will be able to find more, and especially some that are particularly suited to the area you live in.
This semi-shade to shade-loving species is one of my favourites. They are superb under deciduous trees where bulbs are often a spring feature. Their large leaves can be plain or patterned and their summer flowers are white or mauve. They poke through the ground at just the right time and their attractive foliage hides bulb leaves and distracts the eye from any that are not hidden. Plant a fern or two with them, along with colourful heucheras, astilbe or a shade loving grass and no one will be looking for dying foliage.
Plant hellebores around your spring bulbs. In the Winter and early spring they will provide flowers. If you cut back the leaves to display the flowers better, the bulbs will grow up amongst them and, in their turn, provide flowers. Cut off the Hellebore seed heads and new Hellebore leaves will come through to fill in the space and to camouflage the dying bulb foliage, staying in place right through into Winter.
Dahlias are the pride and joy of some garden borders. They are very colourful and some grow to more than one metre in height, providing leaves that will hide dying bulb foliage. In some climates, Dahlias can be left in the ground over winter unless they need to be dug up and divided. Elsewhere they are dug up in autumn and replanted in spring. Whichever you do, if you plant the tubers in a suitable place you can use the new growth of the plant to camouflage the dying bulb foliage.
Echinaceas (Purple Cone-flower)
This native North American plant is another useful choice to disguise bulb foliage. It forms large clumps that need to be divided every few years and the foliage emerges from dormancy at a time to do service as a cover-up.
The medium to tall clumps bear large daisy flowers with mauve-purple to rose-pink petals during summer. The petals surround an orange-brown central cone that is often used dried in vases. Recently hybrids with white, yellow, orange or tomato-red flowers have become available.
The plant has additional attractive features: the flowers attract bees and butterflies and the cones provide food for birds in the winter. You can prolong flowering by removing dead flowers.
These perennials are a mass of lacy-edged leaves and colourful flowers that are a joy in spring. After the flowers turn into seed capsules that most people discard, the leaves perform the task of camouflaging unsightly bulb foliage.
Aquilegias can be grown from seed but take two years before they flower so it is probably more convenient to buy plants.
These perennial poppies are excellent plants to camouflage those unsightly dying leaves. They usually start emerging in winter providing a lacy texture against the bulb foliage. They burst into growth as the bulbs begin to die down.
Oriental poppies have a spectacular display of blooms that hide the remnants of spring bulb flowering and brighten up the garden at that awkward time. After flowering they go dormant and are in turn covered by other plants, such as daylilies.
Daylilies are perennial plants, native to Asia. The name alludes to their flowers, which open in the morning and wither in the evening, lasting no more than 24 hours. Flowers continue opening and dying, and some are known to bloom all summer and autumn.
Some daylilies are deciduous and disappear during winter, to reappear in spring. Others are semi-deciduous and retain short leaves throughout winter, with long ones growing from spring. Daylilies are easy to grow and require little attention, except for division when the clump gets too large. If grown near spring bulbs their spring growth makes them excellent plants to camouflage dying foliage.
The cranesbill Geraniums, not to be confused with Pelargoniums, are widespread through the temperate regions of the world. The larger, spreading varieties, such as Johnson’s Blue, are best for concealing bulb foliage. The plant disappears underground during winter and reappears in time to perform its masterpiece of disguise.
Geraniums are available in white, light pink through to cerise, purple and blue. Choose the colour that will fit in with your colour scheme.
Here’s a hint that might save you some money. Geraniums can be easily propagated from cuttings. Take 3 – 4 inch cuttings from leaf stalks (rather than flowering ones) and put the ends in a jar of water or some growing medium and keep them in a warm, light place. Roots should form in about a month. When there is a good-sized root mass, transfer the plants to pots and grow indoors for several days and then outdoors. Plant in the garden when they are healthy plats several inches tall.
Annuals are easy to use and you can choose what you like from the plants available in the garden shop. Pansies and Iceland poppies are excellent plants to camouflage smaller bulbs. Plant them in autumn and enjoy them during winter. By spring they should be large enough to do their camouflage job. The disadvantage is that they will succumb to hot summer temperatures so you will need to replace them with summer flowering plants, such as petunias. Other useful annuals of varying sizes are Calendulas, Antirrhinums, Cosmos, Cornflowers… to mention just a few.
Another option is to look through seed catalogues to find mixes of specially chosen plants to camouflage dying bulb foliage. There will be full instructions for sowing and care.
Spring bulbs are wonderful to grow and enjoy so don’t avoid them just because the foliage is untidy once flowering is finished. I have listed only some of the many plants that can be used to cover or hide the necessary leftovers of spring flowering.
If you have any ideas or would like to tell us about something that has worked for you please do so in the Comments box below.
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