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Naturalizing with Bulbs

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Naturalized bulbs multiply over time, creating a carpet of bloom.

Create a Look of Carefree Abundance by Planting Bulbs in Large, Informal Groups

When spring comes to rural England, the fields and woodlands are carpeted with flowers. Crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and daffodils bloom everywhere, having "naturalized" into drifts and clumps that come back year after year. This look of carefree abundance is easy to achieve, and it's also a real time-saver for today's busy gardener.

Bulbs are ideal plants for creating a "naturalized" look. They're easy to plant and easy to please. Leo Vandervlugt, president of Dutch Gardens, the Vermont-based bulb purveyor, explains that the key to success is threefold. "It's important to start with varieties that multiply naturally," says Vandervlugt. "If you plant these bulbs and they are happy in their location, they will divide and gradually spread themselves around."

Many of the smaller bulbs are excellent candidates for naturalizing. Vandervlugt recommends crocuses, winter aconite, Star of Holland (Scilla siberica), Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) and most varieties of daffodils.

Bulbs require well-drained soil, with adequate moisture in spring and fall. Because the bulbs are dormant in mid-summer, they only need water at the beginning and end of the growing season. Vandervlugt also recommends an annual application of granular fertilizer, such as Dutch Gardens' Performance Plus, for the first few years.

Once the bulbs have finished blooming, the foliage must be left undisturbed until it withers on its own in late spring. "If you mow or cut down the bulb's foliage," says Vandervlugt, "it can't produce the energy it needs to form next year's flowers."

For the most "natural" look, Vandervlugt suggests either scattering the bulbs and planting them where they fall, or planting clumps of 5, 7 or 9 bulbs, placing these clusters in an irregular pattern through the lawn or woodland.