A lawn with naturalized bulbs is a beautiful way to add more flowers to your yard. Find out which fall-planted bulbs are best for creating beautiful swathes of color in your grass lawn in spring.
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 on the lawn of a giant Victorian home many years ago. The lush green of spring combined with an acre of blue flowers was breathtaking and I knew I wanted to do the same on our property one day.
The big caveat is, sometimes these bulb-filled lawns are populated with invasive or aggressive species replacing one mono-culture (lawn) with another. Although the bulbs, at least, should support pollinators with their nectar and pollen.
So, before you do anything, confirm with local authorities 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.
There are many uses of the word ‘naturalize’ for lawns. For this project I mean, achieving a natural look when planting flowering bulbs in a grass lawn, leaving the bulbs to spread (multiply) as they do naturally.
In the end, there will be a combination of grass lawn and a sea of low-growing polliantor-friendly flowers in early spring.
Growing Away From a Lawn-Centric Garden
This project is not for anyone who likes a heavily-fertilized, robust, carpet-like lawn. The bulbs will probably not be able to compete with the grass or handle the fertilizer. And they need to live out their natural life cycle before you mow your grass in spring.
It is perfect for poor quality lawns like mine. Situated on very sandy soil, my grass struggles at best. There are large bare patches and areas where moss has taken over. Truthfully, I’d be happy if it was entirely moss or a low, walkable ground cover (like I’ve started planting here), so I wouldn’t have to bother with it.
As it is, I usually only have to mow the lawn a few times each summer, but never would be better.
Why don’t I improve the grass? Time, money, and environmental concerns. Commercial lawn fertilizers do terrible damage to our waterways. Most grass is non-native and offers little or nothing to pollinators. And I take no pleasure in mowing grass. And, of all the ways I could spend money on our garden, lawn care does not make the top 100.
Some people suggest turning the entire lawn into garden but that too is expensive and labor-intensive.
My compromise is to accept a low-quality lawn and add spring-flowering bulbs to give it a burst of color at the start of each growing season.
You could also select fall-flowering bulbs and stop mowing late summer to allow their growth.
I’ll show you what I chose and how it’s going.
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.
1Use Low-Growing Bulbs
Choose low-to-the-ground bulbs that suit a meadow-like setting.
Most tulips, for example, are not suitable. Crocuses, bluebells, starflowers, and grape hyacinths are good options. I’ve listed what I chose below.
This list of spring-flowering bulbs that attract pollinators may also have some selections you like.
How many bulbs will I need?
As many as you can afford!
I ordered 400 bulbs total. The squirrels got some of them before I added protective screens (see Tip 6, below). I’m guessing I ended up with around 350. Most of them are really small, perhaps the size of your finger tip, so I wasn’t expecting a huge display. Planted approximately 4 to 12 inches apart, they covered about 150 square feet. Another few years I should start having a nice swathe of blue flowers each spring.
Will I need bulb fertilizer?
No. If you have soil that plants can grow in, your bulbs will do fine as they are.
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.
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. 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.
6Protect Newly Planted Bulbs
After I first planted mine, I had squirrels lining up 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.
Find Your Frost Dates & Hardiness Zone
- Plant Hardiness Zones | United States | Canada
These are listed on seed packets and plant tags to guide your choices.
- 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.
Blue Flowering Bulbs for Lawns
These suggestions are just that: suggestions. Some of these 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.
1Siberian 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
2Iris 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
3Original 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
4Azureum 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
5Jessie Starflower (zones 5 to 9)
- Sun or part-sun
- 8 to 12-inches
Wait! Before You Plant…
Be sure any plants you choose are:
I just planted my first lawn bulbs last year, but so far they are looking good and I’m looking forward to seeing them spread as the years roll by.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛