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Do you have tips for naturalizing a landscape with bulbs?

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Many gardeners have good intentions when it comes to planting bulbs. Each spring, they renew their commitment to plant bulbs in the fall. But, sometimes the handful of bulbs that finally gets planted doesn't seem to make much of a difference. It often seems like it takes a truckload of bulbs to make any impact in the landscape. This is both expensive and fills up the garage when gardeners forget to plant them. There are other less expensive options that produce beautiful results. Naturalizing an area with bulbs is one solution. Naturalizing is creating an area, however large or small, in the landscape where bulbs are planted in an informal, random pattern. Consider these tips.

Locate a naturalized site in an area that can remain undisturbed while the bulbs are growing. It can be as small as a 10 x 10 garden bed, or as large as the entire backyard. The bulbs planted in this area should increase from year to year. The spot that is chosen must have good drainage. Wet, water-logged soil reduces bulb growth. Be creative as you choose a location. Crocus planted in a parking strip can create a beautiful show each spring as the flowers bloom up through the grass. Of course, the area cannot be mowed until after the foliage begins to die back. A shrub and tree bed or an informal perennial bed work well, too. Raised areas or slopes make great naturalizing areas. The area should also be fairly permanent so the bulbs can remain undisturbed for many years.

To promote a feeling of nature in the area, plant the bulbs randomly. Be sure to stay away from rows and patterns. Mother Nature is not known for symmetry. Too often we think bulbs have to be planted in formal patterns. That works well for large formal gardens, but most home landscapes are better suited for natural, random plantings of bulbs and flowers. Throw the bulbs into an area and plant them where they land. Large groups of similar colors can be planted, but be sure to use variety by mixing colors, sizes and spacing.

The most common bulbs for naturalizing are daffodils, narcissus and crocus. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. Others to consider include the drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), Asiatic lilies and galanthus (Galanthus nivalis). All naturalize quite well, are long lived and will add lovely color to the landscape. Muscari can be used, but it often spreads more than most gardeners want. Tulips can also be used, but many of the newer varieties die out after a few years of neglect.

When using small bulbs, plant them by paths or sidewalks so they don’t get lost in the rest of the bulbs. A few can be thrown in with other bulbs, but most need to be planted randomly in highly visible areas.

If you can only afford a few bulbs each year, start with a small area and gradually expand in the future. A small spot with lots of color is much more eye-catching than a large area with a bulb every 10 or 20 feet.

As fall turns to winter, take a leap of faith and plant some bulbs now. Your almost heavenly reward will come next spring. Visit http://extension.usu.edu/cooperative/aska/ to see other Ask A Specialist columns.

Posted on 29 Sep 2005

Jerry Goodspeed
County Director, Horticulture Agent, Weber County

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