Tips on how to naturalize bulbs for best results

September 13, 2017

Being an innocent amidst peril you could be a "babe in the woods" (from 1795). But woods or even smaller green spaces are not just good to look at but literally good for the soul. The British Journal of Sports Medicine says that walking 25 minutes among trees and grass and green spaces lowers our level of frustration, relaxes us, helps us become disengaged from everyday life and increases our level of meditation. 

Small space or large, you can create your own colorful woodlands by planting spring-flowering bulbs among the trees and shrubs. 

Bear in mind that trees and shrubs have root systems that will absorb rainfall and use up the nutrients in the woodland soil. Try to avoid planting bulbs right over tree roots. You can add a few shovelfuls of soil mixed with sand, and plant a clump of bulbs in that. Never heap topsoil over the entire root system of trees and shrubs, as you could risk cutting off air and water, and suffocate the tree. Avoid planting under black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) as their root systems emit toxic chemicals to discourage competitors. 

Woodsy areas have dappled or filtered sunlight, so choose bulbs that grow well out of direct sunlight. Many flowers will bloom before the deciduous trees have leafed out. 

For a dreamlike look, try growing Hyacinthoides hispanica, known as Spanish bluebells, which do well in USDA zones 4-9.

The two-foot-tall plants have up to a dozen blue-purple, bell-shaped flowers on each stem. Plant Spanish bluebells in partial shade. Plant bulbs three to four inches deep, four to six inches apart. 

Always water the bulbs right after planting, and water once a week if it doesn't rain. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. If you plant in a spot with more sun, you will have to water more often. Luckily most of these bulbs do well with just minimum care. 
Keeping the soil evenly moist in early spring yields more blooms. After blooming, let the soil dry out as the plants go dormant.

These 16th century heirlooms will multiply over the years, creating mystical clouds of hanging bell-shaped flowers. 

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Wolfbane, also called Winter Aconite, bloom earliest, quickly followed by early daffodils. 

Daffodils or narcissus need just a bit more light than other bulbs, but do well along paths and the edges of the wooded area. Choose varieties known for naturalizing, or increasing in number over the years. White trumpet daffodil Mount Hood, Large Cupped Narcissus Flower Record, and white with yellow cup Ice Follies can add a bright note to the early spring path. So can smaller varieties such as wing-shaped white Triandrus Narcissus Thalia, or Tête-à-Tête, with up to three yellow flowers on each seven-inch-tall stem. 

Along a woodland path or in a clearing, try adding Dogtooth Violets (Erythronium dens-canis). These bloom with a single pink, white or lilac flower in very early spring. The petals have a slight yellow tint at their base. The leaves have brown spots, adding to their appeal. Dogtooth violet grows from an oblong, white bulb resembling a dog's tooth. Its Latin-specific epithet dens-canis translates as dog's tooth. 

When you naturalize with bulbs, remember that they always look best planted in clumps or groups. 

You can help your newly planted bulbs by giving them a generous sprinkling of organic fertilizer just as they begin to grow in early spring. 

Plant bulbs among the trees and shrubs, and you will have a woodland garden for years to come. And listen to your own inner quiet, because you are never truly alone - the fields have eyes and the woods have ears.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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