What to Plant with Tulips (and Which Flowers & Shrubs to Avoid)
You know spring has (finally!) arrived when you see tulips in bloom in your garden. These gorgeous flowers grow from bulbs that are planted in the fall before the ground freezes. Tulips are available in every color of the rainbow with single petals, frilled petals or lush, double petals which make them resemble flowers such as peonies and roses. Different types bloom in early, mid and late spring, so if you plan well, you can have tulips all season long.
How to Help Your Tulips Bloom (Again & Again):
Although you might think of tulips as perennials because they’re bulbs, most types only bloom well the first year or two, then fizzle out. That’s OK! Most gardeners treat them as annuals and plant new bulbs every fall. However, a few types, such as the smaller “species” tulips or Darwin hybrids, typically do return for years in the right conditions. To really help your tulips thrive, leave the foliage of any tulip for about six weeks or so until it withers; that’s so that the plant can make food for next year, which will increase the chances of blooms.
What to Plant with Tulips:
To hide the fading foliage, plant tulips with companion plants that have similar needs, which is 6 hours or more of direct sun and well-draining soil. Also, these bulbs are loved, loved, loved by deer, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, mice and voles, so don’t be surprised if you find them dug up or chewed to the ground. To keep away hungry critters, try planting tulips with other companion plants that animals don’t like, such as daffodils. It’s not a foolproof method, but it’s definitely worth a shot.
You also plant tulip bulbs inside special protective containers or homemade chicken wire cages. Or plant in pots, though you’ll need to cover the top with chicken wire to discourage digging. Unfortunately, critter repellants are not helpful, because determined animals become used to the taste and smell.
Our Top Picks to Plant with Tulips:
Daffodils are early spring bloomers that readily naturalize, so they keep spreading every year. Rodents don’t like them because they contain lycorine, a naturally occurring toxic chemical. Layer them with tulips, and you may be able to keep hungry visitors away.
Sweetly scented hyacinths come in a rainbow of colors. Critters tend to leave them alone because they contain toxic alkaloids, so they’re another good option to plant near tulips. The flowers last for weeks and return reliably for years.
Not as well-known as it deserves to be, this shrubby perennial has pretty, late spring blooms in shades of pink, white or purple. It’s drought tolerant once established, and deer tend to leave it alone.
Alliums include many different edible and ornamental types. Their lovely, globe shaped flowers stand above attractive grass-like foliage. Rodents and deer tend to leave most alliums alone, so try adding these to your garden near tulips.
5. Grape Hyacinth
This little flower, also called muscari, comes in shades of blue, purple, white and pink. Its slight grape fragrance and diminutive size make it perfect for borders in front of taller tulips. Deer and rodents tend to leave it alone.
This unusual spring flowering bulb has a decidedly stinky odor; fortunately, you won’t smell it, but animals will. Its eye-catching star-shaped flowers make a statement next to other spring bulbs, and its odor may keep nibblers away.
7. Dwarf Lilac
You’re familiar with this sweetly scented spring flowering shrub, but the new dwarf varieties stay petite and max out at 3 feet wide and tall (much smaller than older types). Deer and rodents leave lilacs alone, so add a few of these smaller shrubs for its spring fragrance and pretty heart-shaped leaves. New types also rebloom later in the season.
8. Virginia Bluebells
These trumpet-shaped flowers naturalize readily, so in several years, you’ll enjoy a field of blue in late spring. They make a gorgeous underplanting for tulips.
9. Hardy Geranium
Hardy geranium, also known as cranesbill, is a sturdy perennial with pretty, spicy-scented leaves and delicate flowers of purple or pink in late spring. Its low-mounding form is an excellent cover for fading tulip foliage, and it’s rabbit and deer-resistant.
10. Pansies and Violas
Pansies and violas have funny-faced little flowers that bloom from early spring until the heat of summer. Because they come in so many different colors, they’re beautiful accents for any shade of tulip. They are appealing to nibblers, though, so only plant these if you don’t have an issue with garden grazers.
This hardy perennial has silvery-green, spicy-scented foliage and purple spikes of flowers that appear early to late summer. It’s also a sun lover, so plant it near tulips, which like the same conditions. The scent may repel browsing animals.
12. Russian Sage
Russian sage is extremely cold-hardy—you almost can’t kill it—and has attractive silvery-green foliage and amethyst purple flowers late in summer. It’s also rabbit and deer resistant, so it’s a good choice in gardens.
Amsonia has feathery foliage and delicate blue flowers in late spring or early summer, just in time to cover the fading foliage of most types of tulips. It’s also not a favorite of browsing deer.
This plant, also called coral bells, is grown more for its colorful foliage than its non-descript spikes of flowers, which bloom in mid to late summer. The leaves come in every shade of the rainbow, from dark burgundy to lime green. Plant this rabbit-resistant perennial to cover fading tulip foliage.
What Not to Plant with Tulips:
Because tulips don’t tolerate shade, avoid planting under trees or with other shade-loving plants, such as brunnera, astilbe or hellebores. While there’s no scientific evidence that planting tulips alongside certain plants keeps critters away, it makes sense not to fill your garden with plants that are irresistible to munching critters. For example, if you do have a deer issue in your yard, it’s a smart idea to avoid planting other flowers, perennials and shrubs that attract deer, such as hostas, roses, daylilie, and arborvitaes near tulips (or anywhere in your yard, for that matter). Ditto for plants that rabbits adore, such as black-eyed Susan and balloon flowers.