Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
October, 2007
Regional Report

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Try planting daffodils or other bulbs in the lawn beneath spring-blooming trees.

Bulbs Forever

Every year, sometime in March, I make a pilgrimage to a certain street in a nearby town to view a garden with towering trees amid a vast lawn carpeted with thousands of crocuses. There is no other word to describe it except "magical." Also embedded in my memory are two meadow areas at Christopher Lloyd's garden in England. One was planted with daffodils, another with guinea flowers. That spring trip to England yielded many other images of bulbs scattered about hillsides and competing for attention beneath blossoming fruit trees.

Alas, my own good intentions to create such an area perennialized with spring-blooming bulbs has never come to pass. By the time autumn arrives, I'm too garden-weary to plant more than a few token bulbs. Still, it's a worthy goal, and a good way to approach it, if planting hundreds of bulbs sounds overwhelming to you, too, is to choose an area and plant, say, 50 bulbs a year, adding a similar number for several succeeding years. What's great about this approach is that by choosing bulbs that naturally perennialize, they will, in effect, help you out by increasing their numbers on their own and seldom, if ever, need dividing.

Choosing the Bulbs
In general, the bigger hybridized varieties of spring-flowering bulbs should not be used for these naturalistic plantings. Much better are the smaller ones such as anemone, galanthus, ipheion, hyacinthoides, leucojum, brodiaea, camassia, chionodoxa, scilla, any of the crocus or muscari varieties, and just about any daffodil. Many of the tulips do not perennialize well, but there are a few that do, including Tulipa tarda, 'Candela', 'Orange Emperor', 'Don Quichotte', 'Keese Nelis', 'Praestans Fusilier', 'Princeps', 'Purissima', 'Red Emperor', 'Red Riding Hood', and 'Toronto'.

Choosing the Site
There are many locations that can successfully accommodate naturalized flower bulb plantings. Large, grassy areas are especially well suited. In addition, broad mixed borders as well as ground cover and shrub plantings lend themselves to permanent bulb plantings. A wooded area can be considerably enlivened by the addition of sweeping plantings of shade-loving species.

Choose a site with good drainage and a slightly acid pH. If the humus content of the soil is poor, consider digging up the entire area and working in organic matter. Fortunately, bulbs are adaptable, and this seldom is necessary.

Fertilizing for the Long Term
In order to have flowers year after year, perennialized bulb plants must be fed regularly. For best results use a balanced fertilizer several times a year during the growing season. Make the first application about one month after planting, then again immediately before and after flowering. If you can only manage one feeding, make it immediately after flowering.

Organic gardeners often top-dress their bulb bed in the fall, beginning the second season, with compost or well-rotted cow manure. Bone meal, once de rigueur for feeding bulbs, is seldom recommended any more as it is not an efficient source of phosphorous and it attracts a variety of critters.

Mowing and Maintenance
If your perennialized bulb planting is in a manicured flower or shrub bed, learn to live with the fading foliage. This is when the bulb is producing next year's flowers. After six to eight weeks it can be cut off. Don't be tempted to fold it over, tie it with rubber bands, or whatever.

For bulbs growing in grassy areas, avoid mowing for six to eight weeks following bloom. After that, mow regularly to within 3 inches or less of ground level. Most bulbs increase their numbers by developing new bulbs, but a few depend upon seeds for propagation, including chionodoxa, scilla, and eranthis. These must have ample time to ripen properly before cutting begins. As soon as the seeds fall, mowing can start.

Nothing lifts the spirits more after winter than seeing the bright blooms of spring. Get inspired this fall to start creating your own magic carpet of glorious spring-blooming bulbs.

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