How to Plant Flower Bulbs for a Meadow Garden Effect

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Lawns are not usually the focal point of a garden, but they can become a notable sight in spring if they're dotted with colorfully blooming bulbs like crocus, species tulips, scilla and other diminutive early bloomers. Mark Konlock, Director of Horticulture at the Green Bay Botanical Garden in Green Bay, Wisc., shares the following tips, developed from his experience creating meadow-like bulb-and-grass combinations at the botanical garden:

A mix of no-mow grasses and 'Tarda' tulips, 'Hawera' daffodils and grape hyacinths make up this meadow at the Green Bay Botanical Garden. Design and photo by Mark Konlock, the Garden's Director of Horticulture.

A mix of no-mow grasses and 'Tarda' tulips, 'Hawera' daffodils and grape hyacinths make up this meadow at the Green Bay Botanical Garden. Design and photo by Mark Konlock, the Garden's Director of Horticulture.

Use plenty of bulbs so that when they bloom they grab attention.

Choose bulbs that tend to naturalize (spreading by offsets underground and/or by seed) and that reliably come back each year. Top choices include species tulips and mini daffodils.

Plant in the fall at the normal bulb-planting time for your area.

Plant handfuls of bulbs in relatively large holes. At the Green Bay Botanical Garden, Mark and staff dig up a chunk of sod, tuck in several bulbs together and then tamp the sod back into place.

Keep it looking natural by positioning the planting holes randomly, with some close together and some more spread out. Plant different numbers and types of bulbs in each hole, rather than following a formula or pattern. In some holes, put all the same kind of bulb.

Allow fall's rains to settle the bulbs and initiate rooting.

In spring, wait until the bulb foliage dies back before mowing the lawn (if you mow it). This is key to ensure that the bulbs restock their energy stores so they can bloom again next spring.

For more bulb-planting ideas from Mark Konlock and other professionals, see http://www.bulbdesignnotes.com.

Related recommended reading:

If you love the look of a meadow garden but you don't have tons of space to devote to one, take a look at Mini Meadows by Mike Lizotte, in which he guides you through designing, planting and tending a small meadow garden that will add beauty while supporting pollinators and cutting maintenance time.

Part memoir, part how-to book, Owen Wormser's Lawn Into Meadows encourages readers to create meadow gardens where they'd otherwise tend a lawn. Drawing from his experiences, he includes design advice, information about the best grasses and wildflowers to use and thoughts on selling the idea to neighbors who love their turfgrass lawns.

Get the most from flower bulbs with the advice of Rob Proctor in his classic book Naturalizing Bulbs. Proctor explains how to combine bulbs with perennials for a natural look, how to choose bulbs for a specific site, how to care for bulbs so that they remain perennial and much more.