One stage, two stars.
For sheer drama, few plants can compete with spring-blooming bulbs. Starting early in the season, straight green stems of daffodils and tulips shoot up like magic from the ground. Then the flowers unfurl.
As sweet as the show is, it's all too fleeting. Within a week or two, the flowers fade and shrivel, then the green, strappy leaves carry on for a few more weeks to help nourish the bulbs for next year's encore.
But there's an easy way to keep the beds pretty: "drop-in" bulb shows. Instead of planting bulbs directly in the ground this fall, plant early, midseason, and late bloomers in 1-gallon nursery cans or 8-inch plastic pots, then slip them into the ground when they bloom.
* Paper white narcissus bloom first. Then come daffodils and tulips. Pick bulb colors that complement a border's color scheme. For instance, in a bed of blue and white violas, you might try a succession of bloom from paper whites to white and apricot-pink 'Salome' daffodils, then pink 'Esther' and double white 'Mount Tacoma' tulips. If the bulb pots are going into an annual bed, plant the flowers first, leaving room between them to randomly space the pots. Hold the holes open with empty containers. Before bulb season, you can drop in other seasonal color, such as potted chrysanthemums.
* Plant one bulb variety per pot or mix colors.
* For daffodils and other large bulbs, put three bulbs in some containers and five in others, so the final planting arrangement doesn't look too uniform.
* Plant a half-dozen or more pots of each variety, depending on the size of your bed.
* Cover large bulbs with 4 to 5 inches of soil, small bulbs with 3 inches. Add mulch; keep moist but not soggy.