How to Plant Bulbs for a Burst of Color

How to Plant Bulbs for a Burst of Color
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Planting Bulbs For ColorThis is the prime season for planting bulbs that will give your landscape a burst of color in spring when it is much needed after the winter months. Bulbs can be planted in flower beds where they are placed among perennials, but there is something beautiful and free when the plantings are naturalized.

Louise Beebe Wilder is one of my favorite garden writers and she explains naturalizing in her book Adventures with Hardy Bulbs as:

"it means to broadcast them on a generous scale in woods, in meadows, by pond and streamside, along winding paths, on rough banks or about the outskirts of the garden, to suggest, as best we may, Nature's handicraft, not man's."

While this method is called naturalizing, it actually takes more planning and work than planting in flower beds. The bulbs need to be matched with the location for it to work properly. For instance, bulbs planted directly in the lawn need to be early blooming and short. The following work well for naturalizing lawns because the blooms and foliage die back before it's time to start cutting the lawn:

Spanish bluebells
Grape hyacinths

There may be areas of your lawn near a fence or structure that you can allow to remain uncut for longer in the season. In this case, daffodils will work nicely.

Other areas that can be naturalized include under trees, in woodland areas, meadows, edges of the lawn where you may be able to leave a strip or patch unmowed for a longer period of time, hills, or hillsides.

Grouping together masses of colors works best for naturalizing because its eye catching and as the years go by the area fills in for an even denser patch of color.  

One method of placing the bulbs is to use your hose as a guide, bending it to create a swirl across the lawn. Digging the holes will be much easier with a guide. The hose also helps us visualize how we want the blooms to sweep across an area. After the first set of holes are dug, dig another set of holes farther in, but still following the shape you've create. You'll be placing the bulbs in layers, spacing the bulbs according to directions. They will gradually fill in but it will take years before they become crowded and need transplanting. Using an outline will make it easier to place the bulbs, rather than haphazardly digging up spots in the location you've chosen.

Not all bulbs are suitable for naturalizing. The varieties that are should be able to grow for at least a few years without dividing, need very little care and should be adaptable to most soils. The following are good choices:

Anemones (windflower)
Species tulips
Star flower
Chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow)
Colchicum (meadow saffron)
Fritillaria (guinea hen flower)
Star of Bethlehem
Spanish bluebells
Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite)
Allium sphaerocephalon
Oxalis adenophylla (wood sorrel)

Tulips are fairly difficult to naturalize, though certain varieties do better than others. Look for "species" tulips which are considered a type of wild tulip, which works well for naturalizing. There is one other concern with using tulips in this way. The wildlife love to munch on tulips, and if you are planting away from the house it will be much easier for animals to dig them up and either move them or take bites out of the bulbs.

When naturalizing bulbs should be planting in well drained soil. Wet locations do not work well for bulbs, and chances are the bulbs will rot in the ground. Fertile soil, but not soggy, and in full sun is the best situation for naturalizing. The edge of a woodland area or under trees works because it's early enough in the season that the leaves won't provide the shade they do normally.  

Bulbs should be planted deeply when naturalizing; as deep as 8 inches. When you purchase the bulbs they should come with planting instructions. Be gentle with the bulbs, cover with soil, patting down gently and water. If you have access to compost and straw, a handful of compost on top of each hole and a light covering of straw over the entire area will be helpful.

Naturalizing bulbs can be expensive if a huge area is done at one time. Consider starting with a smaller area, using inexpensive bulbs, and put in the time needed to do a good job with the planting. In the spring you'll be able to see the results of your work, and determine whether you want to spend more time and money in the fall to add more bulbs.

Use your imagination when it comes to how the bulbs are placed and the colors you choose. Think of your yard as a canvas and your spade as the paint brush as you plant each bulb. You'll love the results if you use your imagination and creativity.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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