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31 October 2012

Naturalising Spring Bulbs

Drifts of naturalised daffodils, snowdrops and crocus growing in open grass are one of the classic images of spring, but they are simple to create and will last for many years.

Naturalising bulbs is a great way to brighten up lawns in spring but there are a couple of things to remember. Choose bulbs that complete their growing and flowering early, such as crocus so that you don't have to delay mowing the lawn. Most daffodils also do well in grass, but leave at least six weeks after flowering before mowing, and ideally leave until foliage goes yellow and straw-like.

Naturalised bulbs are useful for planting under deciduous trees, where the conditions are too dry and shady for most plants. You can use spring- or autumn-flowering bulbs because they are in growth when the trees have few leaves to cast shade. Suitable choices include anemones, crocuses, scillas and hardy cyclamen, such as C. hederifolium and C. coum.

The following are examples of bulbs suitable for naturalising in grass

Crocus is the genus, along with daffodils, most often grown in grass. The pale-mauve Crocus tommasinianus flowers as early as January and will spread very quickly. Cultivars of Crocus chrysanthus start flowering in February and also form large long-lived clumps.
The airy blue flowers of Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii are ideal for growing in damp areas. Their tall 2ft stems enable them to hold their own even in long grass.
Chionodoxa luciliae, Glory of the Snow, will soon colonise areas of grass that get some shade. Only a few inches tall, its pale-blue flowers are enhanced by a background of dark-green grass.
Erythronium dens-canis, the dog's tooth violet, grows well in short grass, particularly around deciduous trees. Its marbled foliage lays flat against the grass, making openings for its short pink or mauve flowers to dance among the blades of grass.
Fritillaria meleagris, the native snakeshead fritillary, with dark-purple chequerboard flowers is another classic grassland bulb. It prefers damp soil and will even thrive in flood meadows. For drier conditions plant Fritillaria uva-vulpis, F. pyrenaica or F. pontica.
Iris reticulata 'George' grows well in an open, sunny area. Other cultivars of this dwarf species, as well as Iris histrioides, will thrive in grass as long as the soil is well-drained.
Leucojum aestivum flowers in spring and looks like a very tall snowdrop. Best grown in damp areas.
Ornithogalum nutans, the Star of Bethlehem, and O. umbellatum have silvery-white flowers that sparkle like jewels in the grass even on dull spring days. Plant them in the sunniest place possible.
Scilla peruviana flowers in late spring but if you don't mind waiting until early June to cut it down it is perhaps the most spectacular bulb to grow in grass. They have a reputation for being tender but Scilla bifolia and S. sibirica are generally tougher and flower earlier.
Other bulbs which may be worth considering are Anemone blanda, Anemone nemerosa, Arum creticum and Muscari neglectum, which can all be grown in turf.

Spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in autumn. This will ensure that, if you are planting into turf, it quickly re-roots rather than dying back in dry or frosty weather.

Summer-flowering bulbs can be planted in autumn if they are hardy (Camassia, for example), or in spring if they are more tender, such as Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus.

This method works equally well in borders as in lawns and wildflower areas:

Make sure that the bulbs you are planting are healthy and discard any that are soft or appear diseased. When planting bulbs for naturalising, scatter them randomly over the chosen area and plant them where they fall. As these bulbs will be in place for several years, ensure that the bulbs aren't too close to each other as this would reduce flowering.
Dig planting holes with a trowel or, in grassed areas, use a bulb planter. The holes need to be about three times the depth of the bulb, as shallow planting tends to weaken the bulbs because they are more prone to drying out.
Break up some of the soil from the plug of turf removed with the bulb planter, and use this to backfill around the bulb once it is in the hole.
Replace the turf on the top of the hole, making sure that the top of the turf plug is level with the surrounding lawn surface.
Alternative method
When planting small bulbs, such as crocuses, in areas of grass, lift or roll back sections of turf. Fork over the soil and add a little balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore. If possible, score the underside of the turf with a hand fork to loosen the soil before replacing it. Firm the turf by hand or by gently tamping with the back of a rake.

Whichever bulbs you choose it will be worth the effort when you can look out in the spring at the jewels glistening in your lawn or under your trees.
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