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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.
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Dig the Hole
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.
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Peel Back the Sod
Fold back the grass with its root layer like a flap, leaving one edge attached. Remove the soil underneath to the proper depth, and place it next to the hole. Add a handful of bonemeal for fertilizer and a layer of sand if the soil is clayey and not free-draining.
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Put In the Bulbs
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.
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Replace the Turf
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.
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N. ‘Flower Record’
A few hours spent burying bulbs on a fall day will yield treasures like this the following spring.
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A lawn filled with bulb flowers is eye-catching from the street, but these plants really reveal their magic when viewed up close. Lie down in the grass beside them on a sunny day for the best vantage point.
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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.
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Anemone blanda (Grecian windflower)
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.
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F. meleagris (guinea hen flower)
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.
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N. ‘White Medal’
Given the right conditions (sun, regular rainfall, and normal cool temperatures), bulbs can continue to bloom for up to three months.