Using Naturalising Bulbs in the Lawn

For many gardeners, the prospect of a swathe of bulbs growing seemingly wild at the edges of a lawn, or in the grass beneath trees holds a particular allure – and with well chosen naturalising bulbs, the idea is that the display should get better and better each year. Done properly it can make a big impact on the overall garden design while also helping to deal with possible problem areas in the lawn, but getting it right calls for a bit of careful thought and, at least to some extent, a change to the way you manage your grass too.

Choosing Your Bulbs

There are four main factors to be taken into account when it comes to choosing naturalising bulbs for the lawn.

  • They need to be hardy to survive from year to year.
  • They must be vigorous enough to spread within a few years.
  • They must be able to compete effectively with the grass.
  • The flowers should be of an appropriate size for the particular garden.

Fortunately, although the need to satisfy these conditions inevitably means that many are not going to be suitable, there are still enough to choose from, whether you’re looking for early spring interest, or autumn colour. Aside from the well-known favourites such as the many forms of crocus and narcissus, the list of widely suitable candidates includes fritillaries, Galanthus, Muscari (grape hyacinths) and Scilla, while the likes of Allium, Arum, Ipheion and lilies are particularly suited to use beneath trees.


Although especially in small gardens, a bulb planter can be used, often the most effective way of planting naturalising bulbs in a lawn is with a spade, cutting a three sided flap in the grass to the required depth and then folding the turf back on itself. Then, once you’ve put the bulbs in position, replace the flap and gently firm it back into place.

The one key thing to remember when it comes to planting is to avoid a regular pattern at all costs. Nothing will ruin your attempt to capture the feeling of a natural looking landscape of wildflowers so quickly as regimented ranks of plants – so let “random” be your watch-word. One time honoured trick is to simply drop a handful of the bulbs every so often as you walk along, and then just go back and plant them where they fell, but it doesn’t really matter how you achieve it; the important thing is that you do!

Grass Management

Adding naturalising bulbs calls for some changes to the way you manage the grass around them, which is why it is often a good idea to only plant a small area in this way. It is something which is often best suited to the edges, or in spots where longer grass can be tolerated without spoiling the overall look of your lawn, because for some time before the bulbs flower, and for up to six weeks afterwards, normal mowing will not be possible.

In practice, however, although it does mean a bit of disruption to the normal routine, this is seldom quite as bad as it seems. In practice, this doesn’t really make much difference before the arrival of spring flowering bulbs, but it does mean a good long wait afterwards to let them to build up the reserves they need for next year, and to have sufficient stores to multiply. At the other end of the year, while you’ll need to stop mowing at the start of September to allow time for the autumn bulbs to grow up, by the time they’ve finished and died back, you’re unlikely to be mowing much anyway.

Adding naturalising bulbs to a lawn isn’t for everyone, and it won’t necessarily suit every garden, but if the idea appeals it’s something that’s well worth giving a go; done well it’s a great way to provide a bit of extra interest, just when your garden might need it most.

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