You can turn a plain grass lawn into a sea of beautiful spring flowers by planting bulbs that gradually naturalize and multiply year after year. Choose early-flowering varieties to provide much-needed pollen and nectar as the weather begins to warm.
You may also enjoy How to Replace Lawn With Wildflower Seed Mix for more options.
Naturalizing Bulbs In Lawn
A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.
I first saw naturalized bulbs when we were driving through a small town in early spring many years ago. There was one massive yard with this stately home surrounded by old trees and a sea of low-growing blue flowering bulbs—most likely Siberian Squill or Azureum Muscari. It was breathtaking.
Why have a plain lawn when you can have a bulb lawn?
Some time later, of course, I learned about invasive bulb species that overtake gardens, but for that moment I filed the image away in my mind for future reference.
So what is naturalizing?
The term is used several ways but generally, with flowering bulbs, we “naturalize” a garden or lawn by planting suitable bulbs that will gradually spread throughout the area and bloom year after year. Left in their natural state, they should be low or no maintenance.
When shopping, you may notice certain bulb packets say “good for naturalizing’ or something similar.
The whole idea sounds rather dreamy but there are pros and cons.
One obvious good quality is the beauty—there is nothing quite like that sea of flowers in spring.
On the downside, once blooming is done, depending on the species, the remaining foliage can get pretty ratty looking while it goes through the essential phase of replenishing energy to the bulb for the next blooming cycle.
One small workaround is to choose bulbs that flower really early in spring so the replenishing phase finishes up a couple of weeks before you’d ever be out cutting the lawn. Or set your blades high enough that they avoid the bulb leaves.
It’s also important to know that some bulb species are thugs—either invasive or aggressive species that simply replace one mono-culture (grass lawn) with another (a sea of one type of bulb). Although the bulbs, at least, may provide some nectar and pollen.
So, before you do anything, confirm that your choices are suited to your region and will not cause future problems. This is not something unique to bulbs but to every plant you choose for your garden.
- Getting Started
- 7 Tips For Naturalizing Lawn With Bulbs
- Blue Flowering Bulbs For Lawns
- Frequently Asked Questions
Getting Started With Bulb Naturalization
The bulb varieties you choose and where you plant them will depend on your location and growing conditions.
In general, most bulbs do not tolerate soggy conditions so well-draining soil is a must.
Light also matters. Some flowering bulbs will flower in part-shade, others won’t budge without full sun. But you may have enough light in early spring before tree leaves open and cast shade.
From there, you can choose based on things like color scheme, height, and bloom times.
As mentioned, you want hardy, perennial varieties known to be good at naturalizing.
For quantity, I say get as many bulbs as you can afford, keeping in mind that they will (of course) multiply as the years go by. The package will have spacing recommendation.
Some low-growing bulbs are so tiny it takes hundreds and hundreds to fill a relatively small area. For example, I fit 400 squill bulbs in a 10 x 15-foot area and it still took several growing seasons to fill in.
Bulb planting time is fall. The ideal time is after most leaves have fallen from the trees but before the ground is frozen.
And do take my advice to cover the areas you have planted with screens if you have squirrels like I do. They can have expensive appetites.
7 Tips for Naturalizing Lawn with Bulbs
As mentioned, before planting anything, check to be sure it will not cause environmental problems in your area. A handy tip is to always choose plants that play a beneficial role in your local eco-system.
1Use Low-Growing Bulbs
Choose low-to-the-ground bulbs that suit a meadow-like setting.
Most tulips, for example, are quite tall and not suitable for naturalizing although one exception is species tulips (botanical tulips) that grow in clumps.
Crocuses, bluebells, starflowers, and grape hyacinths are good options.
Daffodils that produce lots of offsets (which become more plants) are also a good choice if you want a splash of yellow.
This list of spring-flowering bulbs that attract pollinators may also have some selections you like.
2Pick a Color Theme
One color or a few colors close in value are key for a natural look. I chose a handful of blue flowering bulbs for mine. I’ve also seen it done in creams and whites and it was stunning.
This has more ideas for using color accents in the garden.
3Plant in Drifts
Swathes or drifts of color are also common in nature: think of wildflowers gradually spreading through a field or native plants in our forest floor.
4Pay Attention to Light and Soil Needs
My lawn is half full sun and half full shade so I chose bulbs that could handle one or both and planted them accordingly.
5Leave Room for Natural Growth
Bulbs spread by multiplying—that’s the naturalizing we’re hoping for. Leave room between them so they can provide lots of babies over the years to come.
The first few years may not look like much, but gradually, your lawn will become spectacular in spring.
Recommended Book: Lawn Gone | Amazon
6Protect Newly Planted Bulbs
After I first planted mine, I had squirrels waiting to dig them up. I used screens made from hardware cloth—look for lead-free or stainless steel (that keep them out of my raised veggie beds) directly on the ground to prevent digging. The winter snow soon covered them up—when we did manage to have some!
7Let Foliage Die Off Naturally
Do not cut your lawn until the foliage has died off.
This is crucial: flowering bulbs get their energy for the next flowering cycle through their foliage.
Do not mow your lawn in spring until they have completely withered away (which means they have refueled the bulbs) or you may not get flowers next year.
Blue Flowering Bulbs for Lawns
Here are some blue-flowering bulbs that will naturalize. Some of them are invasive in some areas, so check first. I picked a blue theme here but crocus and snowdrops are another good option.
If you crave the wildflower look, consider using a low-growing continuous bloom alternative lawn seed mix.
Find Your Frost Dates & Hardiness Zone
Average Frost Dates | Use this calculator at Almanac.com. Enter your city and state or province to find your first and last frost dates and number of frost-free days.
Ecoregion | Learn about the native plant and animal species and environmental conditions specific to your region to better understand why your garden choices matter.
Learn More: Understanding Frosts & Freezing For Gardeners
Siberian Squill (zones 4 to 9)
Beautiful but this one is invasive in several areas. Perhaps you already have it? If it’s a problem, ignore this one. Otherwise, check before you buy: it’s very beautiful.
- Sun or part-sun
- 4 to 6 inches tall
Iris x hollandica (zones 3 to 8)
All the beauty of irises packed into a wee plant. Just a few inches tall, these guys are enchanting.
- Sun or part-sun
- 6 to 8 inches tall
Original English Bluebell (zones 3 to 9)
While I tried to stick with low-growing selections, I could not resist these bluebells. They come up around 10-inches tall for me, but again, it’s the early spring beauty and pollinator power we’re aiming for.
- Sun or part-sun
- 12 to 24- inches tall
Azureum Muscari (zones 3 to 8)
A tried-and-true favorite in compact form. By combining several varieties of bulbs, the different shapes, colors, and textures all play off each other.
- Sun or part-sun
Jessie Starflower (zones 5 to 9)
- Sun or part-sun
- 8 to 12-inches
Frequently Asked Questions
To naturalize a lawn, choose spring-flowering bulbs known to be good at naturalizing (spreading) and plant them as directed (usually in fall at leaf drop time). The bulbs will grow up through the lawn and produce flowers.
Certain hardy perennial bulb species are good multipliers, spreading from the bulbs and/or by producing seeds. Check product labels for bulbs listed as “good for naturalization” or something similar.
The best lawn for naturalizing bulbs is one that has not been routinely treated with fertilizers or herbicides. Thick, carpet-like lawns make it harder for bulbs to grow. Untreated, less pampered lawns better accommodate spring flowering bulbs. You should also avoid aeration as the spikes of the aerator could damage the bulbs.
To naturalize a lawn buy as many bulbs as you can afford. It takes a lot of bulbs to really fill a lawn with colorful flowers in spring. Follow the directions for naturalizing on your bulb packet for recommended quantities and specific planting instructions.
Fall is the best time to plant bulbs for naturalizing a lawn. Get them in the ground after tree leaves have dropped but before the ground is frozen.
There is no need to fertilize naturalized bulbs. They should multiply and flower year after year without any assistance.
SHOP FOR BULBS
- Eden Brothers (US)
Want Pollinators in Your Garden?
- Choose plants, trees, and shrubs used by local wildlife for food and habitat during all stages of life. Options will be different in each growing region.
- Avoid products like pesticides that are toxic to pollinators and other animals in the food chain.
- Keep it natural: sustainable gardens are not tidy. Dead and decaying things nourish living things.
You can read more ecological gardening tips here.
If you want to add bulbs that flower in fall, this lists some options including autumn crocus.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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