Roadside Daffodil Planting Project

A hillside shows off a mix of daffodil varieties called Spring Loaded by Colorblends.

Each fall the Lewisboro Garden Club of Lewisboro, N.Y., organizes roadside planting of daffodil bulbs. Tens of thousands of daffodils bloom alongside the streets of the town in the spring, thanks to these annual efforts that were started by member George Scott. Here are Scott’s tips for starting and managing a similar community project in your city or town, in his words:

1. Daffodils like sun. They also like soil that drains well. No standing water. Where conditions are right, daffodils can multiply and bloom year after year. This is called naturalizing.
2. Plant roadside daffodils in the grass. Daffodils in grass are easy. They bloom before the grass starts growing, then die back and go dormant. After bloom, you just mow them down—but not too soon. Daffodil foliage must die back naturally for eight or more weeks after bloom, so the bulbs can recharge with the energy needed to bloom the following spring. We put out homemade signs reading “Do Not Mow Until June 15” to remind town maintenance crews. (South Salem is in USDA Zone 6b.)
3. Buy top quality. A bloom display that lasts for four to six weeks each spring requires a blend of different types of daffodils that bloom at different times, early to late. We work with Colorblends, a national flower-wholesaler that sells direct to landscape professionals and home gardeners (http://www.colorblends.com). Colorblends specializes in blends but also carries a long list of individual varieties.
4. Choose sites with impact. We’re looking for drive-by gardening experiences. Plant both sides of the road for an allée of flowers. Slopes are always dramatic. Roadways, median strips, public schools and even police headquarters are all candidates for a daffodil display.
5. Spreadsheets help. Use a spreadsheet to list everything that needs to be done during the year, including which committee member does what. In January, we put planting sites to a committee vote and then apply for necessary permissions or permits. In April, we post Golden Roads signs in blooming beds and also put out Don’t Mow signs. In August, we request a police car to monitor traffic at our October planting event. In early November, we write a press release thanking our volunteers and donors and submit it to the local newspaper. And so on.
6. Estimate costs and raise funds. In our early years, we staged a variety of fundraising events. After five years, we realized that events are incredibly labor intensive and daffodil-planting projects are actually not hugely expensive. Now we rely mainly on donations and stage one fundraising event each year. In September, we package daffodil bulbs in bags of 50 and 100 to sell at the annual Lewisboro Library Fair, where we also recruit new volunteers.
7. Line up volunteers early. Schedule your planting event for the same Saturday morning each year, if you can. We usually plant in the last weekend in October, so we start sending e-blasts out in mid-August. Cast the net widely. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are always eager to help. So are many school groups, especially high school environmental-studies classes. We use spreadsheets to assign everyone to specific tasks. Keep groups such as Girl Scouts together, as they have more fun that way. When including groups of kids under 12, assign parents or other adults from that group to supervise at a ratio of one to three.
8. Grids make everything easier. Before planting day, block out the planting site in grids to make work assignments clear. We lay out multiple grids of about 40 to 45 square feet each, which we’ve found is a good size for planting 100 bulbs. We mark the borders with two-inch surveyor’s tape or athletic-field paint and place a numbered landscape flag at a corner of each grid to identify it. Once a grid’s been planted, we move the flag to the center of the grid. For continuity, group safety and to avoid winter road salt, we plant at least three feet from the roadway.
9. Make planting day organized and fun. Assign everyone a role. Our committee members are each responsible for a key task, such as planting-team coordination, safety, bulb-planting instruction, grid detail, digging rocks and moving things. All planting teams are assigned to a grid, with supervision. Our teams plant 4,000 bulbs in 3 hours: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., working in two 90-minute shifts. There’s now a cleanup shift, too: noon to 1:30 p.m. We serve coffee, doughnuts and other refreshments.
10. Plant densely. In most cases, people will be viewing these plantings while driving by at 30 miles per hour or faster. The denser the planting, the higher the impact: Plant bulbs four inches apart. We ask a volunteer to make a supply of six-inch-long sticks for use as planting-depth guides. The sticks are also marked at four inches to indicate the desired space between bulbs. Large shovels are the best tools. When planting in grass, volunteers are instructed to dig down to the approximate depth and pull back a flap of sod. They do this one hole at a time, or they hinge back the grass in a long line. Others place the bulbs in the holes (a great way for kids to help). Then we replace the sod and press the flaps down with our feet. Later, the cleanup crews check each grid to address any issues, raking to remove leftover grass clumps, small stones and such. They use a tamper tool to flatten any uneven areas and to make doubly sure there are no air pockets underneath. Finally, we spread grass seed on the planted areas. Our goal is to leave the area looking like we’d never been there—until spring that is!

Image credit: Colorblends

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