When they heard we’d be adopting a baby girl, my wonderful DG friends wanted to throw a shower. They asked what we needed for our new daughter. I thought back to the sweeps of bright blooms we’d seen in Amsterdam last spring and said “Crocus bulbs! Let’s plant a crocus lawn for her.”
Crocuses are one of the best bulbs for naturalizing in a grassy lawn area. I've tried planting daffodils in a lawn area, and their foliage didn't start fading until the grass was knee-high, a situation that didn't make my lawn-loving husband happy. Crocuses bloom earlier than daffodils, so they have usually finished blooming and growing by the time grass starts growing in earnest. It's not just matter of not wanting to mow down the bright blooms; if you want the bulbs to return and even multiply for next year, you have to give the foliage a chance to feed the bulbs after they're done blooming.
The first step was to choose the varieties we wanted and order the bulbs. Rather than having everybody send a little box of bulbs, we decided it was easier for everybody to chip in for a bulk order. I turned to my favorite bulb suppliers to see if they had any good deals. We could have picked just one variety and planted it densely for the effect that was common in Amsterdam, but it was too hard to choose a single favorite.
We decided on a colorful combination of different kinds. I figured I could extend the blooming period by planting both early C. chrysanthus(Snow Crocus) and slightly later-blooming C. sieberi. In the end, I ordered over three thousand crocus bulbs! That seems like a lot until you realize that they are very small bulbs that can be planted a handful at a time. OK, it was still a lot. But the result was worth it.
Happily, several of my DG friends offered to come over and help plant, so we had a "crocus planting luncheon" last fall. I set everything up ahead of time so we could make the most of our afternoon. We ate, we visited, and we planted 1500 crocus bulbs! There are certainly a lot of ways to organize this sort of effort, but I'm hoping the way I went about it will give you some useful ideas for installing a crocus lawn of your own.
With several people planting at once, I wanted a way to get a fairly even distribution of bulbs without big gaps. I marked off the area I wanted to plant with flag stakes, creating a grid of squares about 4 feet on each side. I used landscapers' chalk (white paint in a can that sprays downward) to mark the squares onto the grass. I calculated that 150 bulbs within each 16 square foot area would give me 9 or 10 bulbs per square foot, a good coverage for naturalizing.
You don't need thousands of bulbs, but however many you plant, remember not to spread them out too much. Two hundred crocus bulbs scattered here and there in your front yard will almost disappear. But those same two hundred bulbs clustered in a 4 or 5 foot diameter circle would have stunning visual impact.
I could have mixed all my bags of bulbs together for a calico effect, but I wanted clumps of individual colors like a Persian carpet. Planting in clumps also gives the effect of bulbs that have naturalized and multiplied for several years. A big box of cheap sandwich bags helped me sort out an even distribution of bulbs. When planting a square, we'd load up a shoebox with one bag of each variety. Then we'd reach into one bag at a time to pull out a handful of bulbs for each clump.
The general rule of thumb for spring-blooming bulbs is to plant them two to three times as deep as their diameter. Since crocus bulbs are so small, they only need an inch or two or soil on top of them. The easy way to plant them in a lawn is to put them just under the sod. Use a small shovel to make a shallow cut into the grass, then lift up a flap of sod. Place a cluster of bulbs pointy end up, an inch or two apart. Press the flap of sod back into place on top of the bulbs.
During the planting party, we worked in teams of two. One person used a shovel to pry up flaps of sod, and the other person knelt down and placed the bulbs. We kept track of which squares of the marked grid had been planted by putting a plant marker in the center of each completed square. A friend sent me markers with wonderful labels such as "Planted with Love." I asked everybody to sign the markers, also. Since I couldn't leave metal markers sticking up in the lawn, I displayed them at the edge of a nearby bed.
I planted the remaining bulbs over the weekend, and then there was nothing to do but wait for spring. The winter has never seemed so long! Several major storms dropped a blanket of snow on our yard, and I could just imagine crocuses popping up under the snow. Sure enough, as the snow melted I spotted slender leaves and buds emerging between the grass blades. By Palm Sunday, a bright carpet of blooms could be seen from up and down the block.
Needless to say, Sunshine Girl took advantage of some warm spring days to play on her Crocus Lawn. I love that her first experience of being barefoot in the grass included all those pretty little blooms! I'm pretty sure she just thinks that's the way grass is - filled with flowers. Come summer, she'll have to make do with dandelions and clover.
The two species I chose bloomed for nearly a month. I tossed some fertilizer around, and we didn't cut the grass in that area until the foliage started to fade. Not only did that let the bulbs plump up again, I am hoping we'll also have more bulbs (and more blooms) for next year.
Celebrate the coming of spring with an unforgettable display. Plant a crocus lawn!
My heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to Sunshine Girl's crocus lawn and to everybody who has celebrated with us since her arrival! A lot of people helped pray her into our arms. We're truly blessed!
All photos by Jill M. Nicolaus. Move your mouse over images and links for more information (let the cursor hover for a few seconds, and a popup caption will appear).
About Jill M. Nicolaus
Better known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. Sunshine Girl's crocus lawn (a gift from her DG "family") is in bloom, so Spring is on its way! We're looking forward to sowing seeds, picking daffodils, and looking for Easter Bunny Apprentices.
(Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)