Q: I grow tulips, daffodils, and Asiatic lilies in my small garden, and they have bloomed and multiplied beautifully for three years. I do not, however, have room to plant any other flowers, and once the bulbs have finished I am left with a boring garden all summer. Could I dig up the bulbs, plant flowers, then replant the bulbs in the fall? — Karen Sippy, Atlanta, Ga.
A: There is absolutely no need to work so hard. Your bulbs seem to be happy where they are, and I can’t think of a single good reason to dig and store them for fall replanting. In fact, the bulbs would suffer for it. In late spring, between the clumps of your bulbs you can plant all sorts of flowers that will bloom through summer and into fall. The roots of the bulbs are 6 inches deep or more, so digging little holes for small annuals — the kind that come in six-packs — won’t disturb the bulbs in the least. Annuals are better than perennials in your situation because they bloom nonstop, and color is the most potent antidote to boredom in a small garden. And they will never grow so thick that they choke out the bulbs. Plant the young annuals as early as you can, about the time of the last frost, which is also when they start to show up in garden centers. At first you’ll barely notice the annuals nestled among the bulbs, but as the weather heats up they will take off and help mask the dying bulb foliage, which you should remove only after they have fully yellowed — though I tend to leave them so that they become part of the mulch.
Which annuals to plant depends on the colors you want and the space you have. I suggest ones that get no taller than 12 or 18 inches. Dormant bulbs like to be on the dry side, and annuals will keep the ground cooler and drier than it would be if you just left it bare. The only ones to avoid are those that require a lot of water, such as New Guinea impatiens. If midsummer brings brutally hot weather, you may find that annuals that have been blooming for three months begin to decline. Accept their end gracefully, and replace them with ones that thrive late in the season, such as snapdragons and calendula.