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Naturalizing Bulbs

by dig the dirt editor

Bulbs planted in large informal drifts create a lovely, natural-looking springtime scene. And with only a little attention on your part, a planting of bulbs will multiply, increasing the display year after year. You can naturalize bulbs in a grassy meadow, under fruit or other deciduous trees, at the edge of a woodland, or on a steep bank. Choose a semi-wild area so that the foliage can wither away undisturbed after the plants are finished blooming. Naturalized plantings are usually deemed too untidy for beds or borders close to the house.









  • Naturalized plantings involve anywhere from several dozen to hundreds of bulbs. While it’s not necessary to buy expensive, extra-large, double-nose bulbs, it is important to choose good-quality, healthy ones.
  • Bulbs are generally released at the best time for planting—in the case of daffodils, early to mid-fall. Plant them as soon as they become available. They will begin to deteriorate if they sit on the shelf too long.






  • In nature, bulbs spread outward from dense clusters, gradually colonizing large, open areas. To replicate this effect, gently toss handfuls of bulbs over the planting area, varying the density so that some are in groups and others are a bit farther away from their fellows.
  • Plant the bulbs where they fall. Use a trowel or special bulb planter to make a hole twice as deep as the bulb’s height. Then loosen the bottom inch or so of soil in the hole, and mix in a teaspoon of fertilizer formulated for bulbs. Place each bulb in its hole, pointed end up, and firm the soil over it.





  • When you have finished planting, water the area to encourage root growth. Keep in mind that the roots will grow into the soil beneath the bulb, so apply enough water to penetrate a foot or so into the ground. A light sprinkling won’t do the job.
  • In areas where fall rains are plentiful, this initial irrigation will be enough to get the daffodils started. If you garden in an arid climate, or if the weather is unexpectedly dry, occasionally give the area a deep watering during the winter months to keep the root zone moist but not soggy.





  • Bulbs deplete their reserves of nutrients when they flower. In order to bloom again next year and produce the offsets or new bulbs that will increase the overall size of the planting, the nutrients must be replenished. For this reason, it is vital to allow the leaves to remain after the bulbs have flowered, so that they can carry on the process of photosynthesis and manufacture the food they need.
  • You can enhance this process by fertilizing as soon as flowering is finished. Use the same bulb fertilizer as before, scattering about one tablespoon per square foot over the area. Water it in well.
  • If rains are scarce, continue to water the planting every week or so until the leaves turn yellow. (This usually takes five or six weeks.) Then stop watering and let the foliage wither on its own; once it does, you can mow or cut off the dead leaves. The bulbs will finish their yearly cycle by resting in a dormant state for several months until fall, when the roots will begin to grow once again.



Daffodils are excellent candidates for naturalizing because they have a relaxed appearance, multiply readily, and will not be attacked by gophers, mice, or squirrels. Like most bulbs, they do best in sunny or partially shaded sites, and prefer a well-drained area. (Perpetually wet soil causes bulbs to rot.) Other reliable choices include crocuses, grape hyacinths, and snowdrops.


naturalizing bulbs, Bulbs, fall planting