Many spring-flowering bulbs are suitable for naturalising.  In particular smaller varieties, such as crocus, selected (dwarf) daffodils, snowdrops, certain botanical tulips, grape hyacinths (muscari), alliums, nerines and lily of the valley are great perennial bulbs to enjoy for several years. 

For recurring displays of colour however it is essential to stick to some simple yet crucial rules:

1. Allow foliage to die down naturally, and do not remove it immediately after the flowers have disappeared.   A bulb is a living plant and to store up vital energy to produce next year’s flower, it needs its green leaves to survive for around 6 weeks to achieve this.  Especially when planting bulbs in lawns, remember to let the leaves die down first before mowing the grass.

2. After several (usually 3 to 4) years, dig up and split the larger clumps of bulbs in late summer or early autumn as naturalised bulbs can get congested, which can affect flowering performance.  Break up large clumps by hand and replant in smaller groups to promote continued flowering performance (note that some varieties, such as Alliums, do not like to get disturbed).

3. Although quality bulbs almost always flower the first year following purchase without the need to fertilise, naturalised bulbs need to be fertilised (high potash and phosphate, compost or manure) during flowering each year to ensure they do so again in future years.  Feeding the bulbs properly should reduce the risk of bulbs only producing leaves and no flowers in subsequent years

 

Where and how to plant bulbs for naturalising

Naturalising bulbs is a great way to brighten up lawns, borders and also areas that are often considered suboptimal for plants to thrive, such as under deciduous trees. 

The early varieties such as snowdrops and crocus are great for lawns as their growth cycle is usually completed before the grass needs its first cutting.   From late September to November is the ideal time to plant bulbs for naturalising, as this will allow them to establish over the winter months.  To achieve the most natural look when planting bulbs underneath the grass, simply strip back a slap of turf, scatter the bulbs and plant them where they land, and then replace the turf.  Bigger bulbs can also be planted using a strong trowel or bulb planter.  For smaller bulbs like crocuses, the best look is usually when they are planted in drifts in large numbers.

Most spring flowering bulbs are also ideal for notoriously difficult areas such as under deciduous trees, where there is often not enough light or water for most garden plants to survive.  This is often not a problem for spring flowering bulbs, as they will have flowered before the trees have grown their leaves to cast shade.  To create the most impact, plant the bulbs in groups of sufficient numbers.  One way to achieve a natural look is to throw bulbs (gently!) up in the air, and plant them where they land.  Remember to allow the leaves to die down naturally and you should be able to enjoy the bulbs for several years.

 

Suggested varieties for naturalising

- Crocus (both large-flowered and species)

- Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

- Dwarf daffodil “Tête à Tête”, “Jack Snipe”, "Jetfire" and “Thalia”

- Botanical tulips

- Allium

- Muscari (Grape hyacinth) "Armenicum" and "White Magic"

- Nerine Bowdenii

- Lily of the Valley

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list and a significant variety of other bulbs are suitable for naturalising, but the above varieties in our opinion will certainly not disappoint.

 

To keep in mind when choosing bulbs for naturalising

One thing to keep in mind is that some commercial catalogues list many bulbs as suitable for naturalising whereas others consider some of these same bulbs not ideal for this purpose.  The reality is that a lot of bulbs tend to come up more than one season but often only produce leaves and very poor flowers, or just leaves and no flowers at all.  A lot depends on soil quality, climate and treatment of the bulbs. For this reason, Bulbs and beyond is on the side of caution and would only classify bulbs as genuinely suitable for naturalising if it is confident that the bulbs can live up to expectations.  Our advice therefore: do your research before buying bulbs that require your lawn to be dug up!

For more information or ordering flower bulbs online, please contact Edward Pennings at info@bulbsandbeyond.com or visit our website at www.bulbsandbeyond.com