Naturalizing Spring Bulbs

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Naturalizing Spring Bulbs

When the earliest spring bulbs emerge from the soil, their nodding heads and brilliant colors remind us that winter’s end is near. These tough little flowers begin their journey upward from the frozen soil not long after the darkest day of winter.

Then, even when the ground is frosted with snow, their blooms are one of the first to brighten our gardens – quite often even before spring officially arrives in late March. But to enjoy these brilliant bloomers, first we must remember to plant them during the prior autumn.

Boxes and bags of spring flowering bulbs begin to show up in nurseries in late summer and fall. This is the least expensive and most ideal time to purchase and plant them. Forced bulbs that have been grown in pots will show up in the nurseries in spring, but these will be pricier and less likely to thrive when transplanted while in full bloom.

Naturalizing Spring Bulbs - flowers in a garden

When shopping for spring bulbs, consider purchasing a few varieties and mixing up your selections to bloom from very early to later in spring. The packages will help you determine which are earliest and which are latest. This will keep your garden colorful for several months. Next be sure to check the height each bulb should attain, and select appropriately for your space. For instance, tiny Fritillaria affinisor Checker Lily grows to a dainty height of about eight inches while its cousin the Crown Fritillary (Fritillaria imperialis) is much more robust and climbs to heights of three feet.

Deciding how to integrate bulbs into the garden can be a puzzler. Some prefer to plant clusters of flowers throughout the garden. Others will choose to line them up in rows, creating large swaths of color. When grouping bulbs this way, just take care to keep like colors and flower types together in groups so you don’t end up with a randomly – and likely sparsely – bunch of polka dots in random places.

Naturalizing Spring Bulbs - purple and yellow flowers in a garden

If your goal is to integrate bulbs and create a naturalized look, the trick is to not over-think placement. Instead, gather a fistful of bulbs and lightly toss them into the area where you want them to grow naturally. Then, plant them where they land. By installing them with a random pattern, you’ll quickly fashion a space that looks like nature created it herself. This style of planting works beautifully when integrating bulbs like narcissus or daffodils into a meadow, crocus into a lawn, grape hyacinth or snowdrops into a summer perennial bed or even species tulip into a swath of groundcover like epimedium. Later, as the years pass, your naturalized bed will thicken with flowers as the bulbs continue to spread and multiply.

Finally, before digging holes for your bulbs, be sure to check the depth suggestions printed on the package. Every bulb thrives when planted to a specific deepness.