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posted: 10/19/2013 6:00 AM

Art in the garden: How to plant bulb groupings for a colorful spring

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  • Orange and purple tulips, yellow daffodils and grape hyacinths create a riot of spring color.

    Orange and purple tulips, yellow daffodils and grape hyacinths create a riot of spring color.

By Diana Stoll
The Planter’s Palette

We often think of fall as the time to focus on preparing our gardens for winter. We should, however, be putting some of our energy into preparing our gardens to come alive in spring in glorious bursts of color.

Planting bulbs in fall will set the stage for your garden's grand opening. And planting bulbs is a lovely way to spend some time outdoors on crisp, cool autumn days. Follow these simple suggestions to create colorful combinations to enjoy beginning in February and continuing well into June.

Bulbs are categorized by their bloom time: early, mid, late or very late. These categories are specified on their packages at your favorite garden center. When pairing different varieties together to complement each other, be sure to select bulbs with the same bloom time. Crocus can share space with early blooming daffodils. A little later, botanical tulips can mingle with fragrant hyacinths.

Or you can choose bulbs from different blooming times to ensure a continuous show of color. Snowdrops appear as early as February; alliums often bloom in June.

Consider when perennials or shrubs might be blooming in your garden. Why not take advantage of that forsythia in full bloom by planting blue scilla and red tulips around its base? Or try adding a group of grape hyacinths at the feet of an old-fashioned bleeding heart.

Blue and yellow are a classic color combination that is easily achieved with spring-flowering bulbs. Choose yellow daffodils to complement blue hyacinths, scilla or grape hyacinths. Kick this color combo up a notch by adding bright red tulips.

Combining analogous colors -- those adjacent on the color wheel -- is beautiful way to create harmonious bulb pairings. The close relationship of orange and yellow becomes evident when orange tulips are planted with bright yellow daffodils.

Complementary colors -- those opposite each other on the color wheel -- unite blue and yellow, red and green, or yellow and purple. Think blue scilla and orange tulips, red tulips against its own green strappy foliage, or a bed of purple and golden yellow crocus -- all stunning color displays. Many two-toned or bicolor flowers lend themselves to easy combos, too.

White flowers brighten up the garden in spring and provide striking contrasts to dark colors. The effect of white contrasted with dark blue, red or orange is dazzling. Plant a group of pure white daffodils in front of a mass of deep burgundy tulips and stop your neighbors in their tracks.

Are you ready to get planting bulbs? At the garden center, choose bulbs free of blemishes or soft spots. Choose the largest bulbs you can find. Larger bulbs cost a little more now, but they give you the largest flowers and the showiest display.

Bulbs like good drainage. Amend heavy clay soils before planting. Don't forget to use bulb fertilizer and water well. A layer of mulch will conserve moisture and maintain a more even soil temperature.

Next spring remove flowers after they have faded to keep them from forming seeds. Leave the foliage intact until it yellows so that energy is forced back into the bulb for next year's flowers.

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit

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