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Which Shade-loving Bulbs to Plant Now for Spring

Bulbs can bloom beautifully without much sunlight, and plant them right and you’ll have a series of flowers for months

Houzz Ireland Contributor Patricia Tyrrell is an award winning landscape and garden… More

It’s the perfect time for planting spring bulbs, and they’re good news if you want to liven up some shady spots in your outdoor patch – under a tree, perhaps… Bulbs flower in sequence, starting with snowdrops and crocuses, and finishing with tulips and alliums, so it’s important to pay attention to flowering times to get a long season of interest.

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Grow a snowy carpet
Snowdrops are the first harbingers of spring, pushing through the frozen soil in January and flowering until late February. They will grow happily in the shade of deciduous trees and, with a little care, will seed themselves around to create a stunning carpet when little else is in bloom. Snowdrop bulbs can fail to appear if the bulbs are poorly stored and allowed to dry out. Buy your bulbs early (September is good) and plant immediately. Alternatively, if you have a friend who is willing to part with a few snowdrop clumps in spring, plant them then ‘in the green’ (ie, when still in leaf, rather than as bulbs).

Read more about plants that thrive in shade and how to care for them

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Pop in some crocus
Crocuses come into bloom hot on the heels of snowdrops. A little warm spring sunshine opens up the blooms and the bees love them. They come in lovely shades of blue, purple, yellow, white and cream, some with stripes some without. Some come into bloom early in January and then there are varieties for every month through to May. Some, such as Crocus tommasinianus, will seed themselves and make a lovely colony in grass under trees. They also look really good in pots.

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Combine colours
Anemone blanda, which comes in beautiful shades of blue and white, will give you lots of colour even in its first year and will happily seed itself around, but is never invasive. Wherever it pops up, it makes a welcome sight in early April.

The little corms are reasonably priced and look for all the world like little black rabbit droppings. Plant generously 5-7in beneath the surface. Here, it is combined with winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), which is in the same family. It’s a little harder to establish, but worth the effort to get a carpet of blue and yellow in spring.

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Go for short but sweet
Iris reticulata is one of the earliest bulbs in the garden, some flowering in February. They are subtle and beautiful, and produce flowers in blues and purples, generally with a yellow or gold throat.

Plant them close by where you can see them as they don’t hang around for long!

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Put out a spring welcome mat
A shady front door with a paved approach can be brightened by the addition of spring colour.
Bulbs do really well in pots. Here, a combination of narcissi, tulips and hyacinths in a limited palette of purples and whites creates a display with real wow factor. As bulbs fade, the pots can be moved around and replaced with those that are starting to bloom. When ordering bulbs, look carefully at flowering times so that you can get a long period of bloom and the best combinations. You could go for a riot of colour for contrast, or a more subtle look in a limited colour scheme that complements with your front door or the materials in the paving or walls.

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Echo spring-flowering trees
Many trees are at their showiest in spring, flowering alongside spring bulbs and adding to the exuberance.

Here, an amelanchier tree’s flowers are echoed in the colours of the white narcissi below. Even when the petals fall from the tree, they can still make a lovely effect on the grass of pink or white confetti, which looks magical with bulbs.

Daffodils and narcissi are our most ubiquitous and visible bulbs, making a great splash in yellow or white. Some are delicately fragrant, such as the ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ narcissus. All flower for long periods. In a small garden, choose dwarf varieties. They tend to be tidier after flowering.

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Team with perennials
Brunnera varieties are wonderful perennials for a shady corner. Varieties such as ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Looking Glass’ have the added bonus of bold and textured silvery leaves. Just as their leaves start to appear so do their dainty blue flowers, just around the same time as the tulips and late narcissi. The silver and blue make an elegant combination with purples and whites or even a nice contrast to yellow tulips. If planting a new bed, plant the bulbs and perennials together to give a very natural effect, and when the bulbs die down the leaves of the brunnera will hide the dying foliage.

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Mix with early foliage
That first flush of spring growth from many of the Japanese maples make them ideal candidates to act as a backdrop and an accent for bulbs. Spring leaf colours range from pinks through to red and orange.

In this planting scheme, warm pink tulips echo the deeper colour of the maple and some hellebore offer a contrast in pale creamy colours. All of these plants do well in shade. Maples will particularly enjoy the shade and shelter of a wall, as the leaves are delicate and don’t like wind or scorching sun.

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Make it green on green
Combine your bulbs with other spring-flowering plants of similar colours. Many hellebore not only revel in a shady spot but also have lovely foliage. Helleborus ‘Wester Flisk’ has sturdy textured foliage and beautiful creamy bells, which it holds well above the foliage. Flowering for a long period, it combines well with some of the viridiflora tulips, such as the Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ seen here.

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Add sweet scent
Not technically a bulb, but often sold as rhizomes or ‘pips’, Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) should be planted in November. It’s perfect for dry woodland, but does like a little moisture and humus to get established. If it likes its new home, it will create a lovely dense ground cover with the sweetly scented flowers appearing in May. Just a word of warning, it is a poisonous plant so handle with caution!

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Create some layers
Onions are not just essential for cooking, they are also an essential part of the garden. The big, bold strappy foliage you can see here are the leaves of one of the ornamental onions or alliums. Coming along after the other bulbs in May and June, they extend the season and, mixed in with earlier blooms, as here with Narcissus ‘Hawera’ and muscari, you can have colour from early spring until the end of June. Distinctive round heads of flowers in purples and blues can make an eye-catching statement when most other bulbs are finished blooming.

Do you have a favourite bulb or a recommendation for a shade-loving plant? Share your tips in the Comments section.
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