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Bulbs That Naturalize

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Bulbs That Naturalize

Have you ever heard the term “naturalize?” When it comes to bulbs — and if you want that prized informal look to your garden design — you’ll want to use bulbs that naturalize. That means they come back year after year and spread out informally in your garden. Now, don’t flip out and think we are recommending “invasive” plants; that’s a different thing altogether. Invasives are plants that reproduce easily but proceed to compete with and choke out other valuable plants.

Bulbs that naturalize also reproduce on their own, but in a gentler fashion. They slowly spread out and create that informal and charming look that so many of us want. After all, bulbs don’t grow in rows and lines out in nature, do they? If this is the look you’re going for, we’d love to help you out!

Bulbs That Naturalize Well

First, of course, you’ll want to choose your bulbs. Not all of them naturalize very well, while others are champs. In addition to this list, keep an eye out for descriptions of the bulbs wherever you buy them (like, from us). If it’s described as “good for naturalizing” then you’re on the right track.

Allium

Anemone

Crocus

Iris*

Muscari

Daffodil

Tulip**

Chionodoxa

Siberian squill

Galanthus

Winter Aconite

*Iris: There are different types of iris that naturalize slowly, like Dutch iris, Siberian iris, and Japanese iris.

**Tulips: Okay, this one is a “sort of” naturalizer. Not all tulips naturalize, but the species tulips tend to perform quite well this way.

Tips for Naturalizing Bulbs

There’s a bit of thought that goes into planting something to look intentionally informal. Your goal is to complete the initial planting in a random and informal pattern, then let nature take its course. Year after year, your bulbs will slowly spread out and develop its own charming design. To get started, though, we recommend these tips:

  • Choose a prime planting location. If you want your bulbs to naturalize, they should be given every opportunity to thrive. Do they like full sun? Consistent moisture? Give them what they need, starting with the best location possible.
  • Avoid planting in lines or rows. We love a good formal garden as much as the next gardener, but naturalizing is definitely not a formal garden, so avoid those graphic patterns like rows and lines.
  • Plant small bulbs in groups of 30 or more. Those wee fellas snowdrops and chionodoxa need more companions to have any impact, so you’ll need to plant more of them.
  • Plant larger bulbs in groups of 5-9. Are you naturalizing larger bulbs like daffodils? You can use a smaller number of bulbs then.
  • Use the “toss and plant” method. This is one of the best methods for ensuring a casual and informal pattern. Grab those bulbs by the handful and toss ‘em out into the area where you are planting. Wherever they fall is where you plant them. Easy, huh?
  • Stick to their preferred care routine. You know that after bulbs flower, their foliage needs to remain in order to gather energy for next year’s blooms, right? Well, when you naturalize, you’ll eventually wind up with a rather large area (hooray!), and when it’s time to cut the foliage back after it’s withered, you may opt for a mower to make this task efficient. But do tend to this part of their care routine, or your bulbs will decline rather than continue to gently spread.

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  • Jenny Peterson