Spring-flowering bulbs can make even beginning gardeners look green-thumbed good, since it’s hard to fail with daffodils, tulips, and crocuses. Unless dug up by rodents or moles or—at our farm—by escaped piglets, they almost always bloom impressively come spring.
They store their energy in those bulbs, after all, so they seldom need much fertilization. And most begin coming up here before the deciduous trees leaf out. Therefore, they even can flourish in locations which will be shady later in the year.
Speaking of locations, I would recommend keeping spring flowering bulbs out of your flower beds and strewing them around other parts of the landscape instead. I’ve tried it both ways and generally find them to be nuisances in the flower beds, since I’m always accidentally digging up ones that I forgot about. But they often prosper in out-of-the-way nooks and crannies—or in the lawn.
My uncle planted Dutch crocuses in his yard, and they continued to make a merry patch there every spring which we would crane our necks to see if we happened to be driving by at that time. If you try this, you’ll want to keep your mower blade set high to avoid cutting off the crocus foliage until it has time to die back on its own. (Since all of the flowering bulbs I’ll mention here derive their energy from that dying back, you always should be careful not to remove their foliage until it has entirely withered.)
Nowadays we have our own patch of Dutch crocuses (pictured in the banner photo) on the east side of our lawn under a maple tree. Since I don’t recall planting any there, I suspect birds "sowed" them from seeds gathered elsewhere on our property. If so, those birds were smarter than I, since the crocuses flourish in that thinner grass which offers them little competition and which we seldom bother to mow. So, they have plenty of time for their foliage to die back properly too.
I do recall planting the white crocuses pictured above, which I received as an order bonus, in a brushy section of our property under another maple tree. There couldn’t have been more than 25 to begin with, but—as you can see—those flowers now completely encircle the base of the tree every spring, since they multiply by division as well as by seeding.
You’ll want to plant crocuses 3 inches deep and about the same distance apart. (Keep in mind that my references to planting depth mean the depth that the planting hole should be—not how many inches of dirt you should pile atop each bulb.) Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) also does well under trees and its planting instructions are the same.
Speaking of bulbs in the lawn, keep in mind that tulips prefer very dry conditions during their summer rest, which they won’t get in watered beds. For many years, I planted mine, some of which are pictured below, on a grassy slope not far from the pasture. We mowed around them until they died back, after which they could be mowed over. A few did bloom again in later years under those conditions.
However, you should never count on tulips to be perennial unless they actually are labelled as such. Plant them 7 to 8 inches deep, to keep them out of the greedy paws of chipmunks and squirrels, and at least 4 inches apart.
Daffodils, on the other hand, will return for generations. They don’t seem to have tulips’ aversion to summer moisture and most animals sense daffodil bulbs are toxic and won’t eat them. Years ago, I talked my longsuffering mother into planting some I had ordered when I didn’t have time to do the digging myself.
She placed many of them on the banks above our roadside ditches, which nobody ever bothered planting or mowing, and they continue blooming happily there to this day. Keep in mind, though, that some types eventually become too crowded to flower and will require dividing. I usually set them about 6 inches deep and 4 inches apart.
Although Mom is gone now, the daffodils she planted return faithfully every spring. They are a sunny reminder of all the—sometimes strenuous—things she would do for her children! Just as the bulbs you naturalize now could persist long enough to provide spring cheer and pleasant memories for your own descendants.
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Photos: All of the photos included in the article are my own.