Q: My bulbs are spectacular while in bloom, but I hate the sight of their drying leaves. what can I do? — Susie Ludwikoski, Mission, Kan.
A: You’re not alone. Gardeners get so fed up with the ugly remnants of bulb foliage that they do the craziest things. Some cut back the leaves and stems before they’ve dried completely, thus robbing the bulb of food for next year’s display. Others tug and yank impatiently, injuring or pulling up the bulb. Some compulsive gardeners go so far as to tie or braid the leaves into odd coiffures in an attempt to neaten their appearance. Aside from looking bizarre, these leafy hairdos don’t allow the foliage to manufacture enough food. There is an easier way: Instead of removing the dying foliage (or just cursing it) you can hide it behind companion plants. And this is the ideal time to play matchmaker. By planting in autumn you’ll be able to plant appropriate combinations without having to squeeze the plants between existing bulbs.
Evergreen ground covers make ideal companions for small bulbs. These good neighbors don’t steal moisture, nourishment, or attention from the delicate blooms. Vinca is pretty with snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, and puschkinia in light shade. In sun, yarrow and pussy-toes enhance dwarf species tulips; while low-growing sedums, veronicas, and iceplants are ideal foils for crocus, grape hyacinths, squills, and Iris reticulata. Bulky bulbs, like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, need heartier comrades. For full sun, try cushion spurge, catmint, rock soapwort, cranesbills, or lady’s mantle. For light shade, some good choices include hostas, astilbes, ferns, Japanese anemones, Siberian forget-me-nots, pulmonarias, foamflowers, and woodland phlox.