Plant bulbs now and enjoy their flowers after the thaw. What better place than right in your front yard? Gardening editor Stephen Orr shows you how.
With a spade (for larger bulbs) or a trowel (for smaller bulbs), make an arc-shaped series of three or so cuts to create a half-moon, slicing through the sod to the proper depth. Most bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the height of the bulb, but check the package.
Position them in random groups a few inches away from one another. You want the flowers to look as though they sprang naturally, so make sure the bulbs aren’t too perfectly aligned. I usually restrict the plants to one kind per hole. Place bulbs root side down (roots will be evident on most bulbs), and don’t let them touch one another or they’ll rot.
Conceal the hole by replacing the soil loosely over the bulbs and pulling the grass flap back over. Lightly stamp the sod down to make sure it’s level. Repeat these steps over the entire lawn as many times as your bulb budget and energy will allow. (I work assembly-line-style: Dig all the holes at once, place the bulbs, and then replace the sod.) On a fine fall day, I often will plant hundreds of bulbs in a few hours.
Instead of putting them in the usual flower beds, I prefer planting bulbs right in the lawn. First off, they’re deer-resistant. Secondly, my small patch of grass is the sunniest part of my property and bulbs love light. And lastly, you can plant a lot more bulbs in the blank expanse of a lawn.
To get the best return from your bulbs year after year, you must accept the gangliness of the foliage as it ripens in the weeks following their flowering. Some gardeners like to neaten up the leaves by tying them into a loose knot like a ponytail, but this inhibits sunlight from reaching them.
How long should you leave the plants standing and mow the lawn around the clumps as if it’s an obstacle course? I err on the side of caution and wait until the leaves begin to yellow and collapse before hacking them off at the base with hedge shears.
If happy in its location, each of these species will increase and spread in number around the lawn. Some do it by sprouting little underground bulblets so that their clumps gain circumference over the years like a family unit. Others, such as the fritillaries, also reproduce by seed and pop up unexpectedly dozens of feet away in a weedy kind of behavior that any gardener would celebrate.