Bulbs: three ways to hide the evidence (aka dying foliage)

Beautiful ‘Prinses Irene’ tulips have me wanting more, more, more!

Every spring finds me wishing I could turn back the clock to fall – to plant more bulbs. But, in a small garden, how do you deal with the necessary (and unsightly) evil of ripening foliage afterwards? The leaves busily making food for next year’s flowers always have a bad hair day.

Unless you have a “nursery bed” to uproot this year’s tulips to, so they can do their thing in private without spoiling your garden show, what do you do? Here are a few tricks for hiding the evidence:

Plant large-leaf bulbs behind spreaders like Hosta, whose leaves will emerge just in time to conceal the dying foliage. Lift up the hosta leaves at bulb planting time in fall, and place bulbs just inside or at the edge of the dripline. If the garden areas are seen mostly from one direction, a single hosta will do; if it’s an island bed, plant bulbs in the centre of a cluster.
Or plant bulbs in small groupings in amongst taller groundcovers such as this big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum). As the tulip leaves mature, you can tidy them away them under the growing perennial.
Or choose from some of the botanical or species tulips, ones with narrower grassy leaves that won’t look so messy as they turn yellow. This is Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint Stick’, planted right by my front steps.



  1. I plant my bulbs closely around perennials firstly so I wont dig up the bulbs by accident when planting something else and secondly so that the perennial's leaves hide the dying foliage of the bulb. It seems to work

    1. Yes, remembering where you planted things is a big plus. I have accidentally excavated or buried bulbs numerously.

  2. All great tips! My tulips are all species tulips, mainly because I don't want to have to plant them over and over. My experience with big fancy hybrids has always been that they just decline and decline till they disappear. My species tulips have turned into clumps, like a daylily. I didn't even realize that the dying-back leaves would be narrower, so that's a plus too. I've seen that Princess Irene tulip elsewhere this spring, and it's a beauty! If anything could win me away from the species tulips, that one could, with its pretty two-tone orangeness.

    1. I agree – most of mine are species tulips, too. The hybrids do tend to run down in my garden. One trick I didn't include comes indirectly from Elizabeth Licata of Gardening While Intoxicated and Garden Rant – she treats her tulips as annuals (often in pots). That would mean simply chopping them to the base after they finish flowering. That certainly hides the foliage! And it gives you the chance to mix it up with different colours every year. I haven't quite gotten to that stage yet. We'll see what happens with the Prinses.

  3. Excellent points, Helen. There's nothing worse than seeing daffodil leaves tied up like a pretzel to hide the yellowing foliage. Paul Zammit, TBG Horticultural Director, also recommends planting bulbs in front of a tall, drooping perennial grass, in our book 'Gardening from a Hammock.' You can see a video of this technique on the TBG website http://torontobotanicalgarden.ca/ Or for more of Paul's tips on low-maintenance gardening, you can visit our site at http://www.GardeningfromaHammock.com

  4. Your combinations look terrific. While I find tulips to be unreliable in my garden (too warm, I think), I do have tons of daffodils that need hiding. I like them planted with hostas but need to mix things up with some taller groundcovers. I'll definitely give the geranium a try. Thanks for the suggestion!

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