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Perennial Partners for Spring Bulbs

Double the color show in your garden with easy-care perennials, that flower at the same time as spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Here are our favorite early-bird perennials you can plant now. By Doug Jimerson

Hellebore

Hellebore and daffodils make ideal dance partners in the spring garden. Both of these easy-care perennials bloom in the late winter and early spring, often when there’s still snow on the ground. The elegant-downward facing flowers of hellebore pair beautifully with the trumpet-shape blooms of daffodils. Plant hellebore in the spring or fall. Tuck daffodil bulbs at their feet in autumn. Zones 3-8

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Bleeding Heart

You’ll fall in love with bleeding heart the first time you see this beauty in the spring garden. This graceful early-blooming perennial is prized for its arching branches that bear pink or white heart-shape flowers. Growing 2 to 4 feet tall, bleeding heart looks best with taller tulip and daffodil varieties. When the weather heats up, bleeding heart will go dormant at the same time as your bulbs, leaving you plenty of space to add summer-flowering annuals. Zones 3-8

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Ajuga

Growing only 6 inches tall, ajuga is the perfect companion for low-growing, early-bird bulbs, such as scilla, puschkinia, snowdrops, and grape hyacinths. To create a colorful carpet of color, space ajuga 8 inches apart and then tuck a few little bulbs between them. Come spring, the bulbs will pop up and bloom alongside the colorful foliage and showy flower spikes of ajuga. Zones 3-9

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Hosta

Just when you think winter is never going to end, the spirit-lifting spikes of hosta leaves start to poke through the soil. Solid green, variegated, blue, or yellow, hosta foliage offers plenty of spring color, even before the leaves completely unfurl. Hostas make great companions for a variety of spring-flowering bulbs including tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, and scilla. Zones 3-9

Creeping Phlox

Once established, it doesn’t take creeping phlox long to create a carpet of color in your spring border. This super-hardy creeper grows just 4 to 6 inches tall, but its bright pink, blue, purple, white, or bi-colored flowers pack a big punch in the garden. The plants are evergreen, so even after the flowers fade, creeping phlox remains colorful right through the winter. Plant small bulbs such as scilla and puschkinia under the mat of phlox foliage so they’ll pop in the spring, creating a double layer of bloom. Zones 3-9

Heuchera

Another early-riser your garden, heuchera is also called coralbells. These perennial beauties show off foliage in a wide range of colors including bronze, purple, green, chartreuse, and bi-colors. Although the plants bloom in early summer, it’s the spring foliage that’s truly spectacular when paired with early-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinth, and scilla. Zones 4-9

Primula

Looking like little jewels scattered through your garden, primroses come in a kaleidoscope of rich primary and pastel colors. Primroses grow 6 to 8 inches tall and combine effortlessly with bulbs such as scilla, early tulips, and narcissus. You can stick with one color scheme or mix it up to create a crazy quilt of primroses and bulbs. Zones 3-8

Doronicum

The bright yellow, daisylike flowers of doronicum, also called leopard’s bane, are borne on wiry stems that dance on the slightest breeze. Doronicum is an early bloomer that grows 12 to 18 inches tall, so pair it with tulips and daffodils. Doronicum will also spread slowly through your garden, although it won’t become invasive. Zones 4-7

Viola

Violas and their cheery cousins, pansies, make great partners for early bulbs because they’re at their best when the weather is cool and moist. In fact, these little charmers are tough enough to withstand temperatures that occasionally drop into the 20s. Because violas grow 6 to 8 inches tall, pair them with little bulbs such as snowdrops, scilla, puschkinia, and crocus. Zones 4-8

English Daisy

The cute-as-a-button flowers of English daisy are guaranteed to put a smile on your face when they pop into bloom. These little charmers grow 8 inches tall and develop bouquets of pink, blue, white, or red flowers that look amazing when paired with spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. English daisy prefers a partially shady location and cool, moist weather. Because English daisy lives for about two years, it’s wise to add new plants every spring to maintain a consistent color show. Zones 4-8

Columbine

With its crown-like blooms and pretty blue-green foliage, columbine makes an ideal partner for tulips, daffodils, and alliums. Growing 12 to 24 inches tall, columbine are super easy to grow and come in a wide range of colors and bi-colors. These perennial natives aren’t particularly long lived, but they often self-sow and will return for many years. Zones 3-8

Brunnera

Once called false forget-me-not, brunnera offers both colorful flowers and foliage. The small, pale blue flowers appear on 12 to 18 inch tall stems atop heart-shape green-and-silver foliage. It’s an early bloomer, making it an ideal companion for spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils that contrast well with its pretty blue blooms. It prefers partial shade and rich, moist soil. Zones 3-8

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