How to naturalise bulbs

Val Bourne

A reader asks: I'd like to naturalise some bulbs in my lawn and I'm not sure what to plant, when to do it or how to?

It’s a very simple process as long as you choose bulbs that are robust enough to push up through the turf sward. These include some varieties of miniature or shorter narcissi. Ignore the taller, showier varieties: these have been bred for the show bench and they tend to be less weather-resistant and willowier. They also tend to be out of scale with smaller spring-flowering bulbs like Dutch crocus, chionodoxa and muscari.

Good miniature or almost-miniature daffodils include the modern American 'Jetfire'. This jaunty, foot-high yellow daffodil is the only one that develops an almost-red trumpet. The pale-lemon, wispy petalled 'W.P.Milner' (registered in 1890) is a wild daffodil lookalike. 'Topolino' is a long-trumpeted, lemon-yellow of elegant proportions. Add some purple Dutch crocus as a partner. These are beefy enough to push through the grass year after year. The stripy purple 'Pickwick' and the plain-purple 'Remembrance' are excellent.

These all flower in March. Plant in September at twice the depth of the bulb by lifting turf with a spade and sprinkling the bulbs into the hole. Pull the lifted turf apart and replace lightly.

Other good miniature narcissi

'Tete a Tete'

The tiny flowered daffodil was the first miniature bred and it still performs well - sometimes producing two stems per stem.


A multi-headed yellow with flowers set an angle from the stalk.

'Toby the First'

Cream-white outers surrounding a long, lemon-yellow trumpet

Planting tips for narcissus

1. Plant from September to early November, to a depth of four-to-six inches, arranging them in informal groups of one variety, not in straight lines. Always avoid mixed groups and plant in situations where spring sunshine falls - not in deep shade.

2. Deadhead after flowering if you wish to. Leave the leaves to die back naturally for at least six weeks, only removing them once withered. You can mow the grass six weeks after the last narcissus has flowered however.

3. Lift and divide congested, non-flowering clumps when they first appear in the early spring or roughly six weeks after flowering.

4. Lifted bulbs can be replanted immediately or the bulbs can be dried and stored, but always allow the greenery to die back completely before lifting any bulbs you wish to store.

Dutch crocus

These are bred from the vigourous alpine crocus (C. vernus) found growing in alpine meadows. These large crocus bulbs produce their flowers four weeks later than the smaller flowered varieties bred from Crocus chrysanthus. But they persist for longer, making large clumps that last for decades. Smaller flowered crocus do ten to dwindle away unless they are in a hot spot.

Mice adore all crocus bulbs and this can be a problem. However bulbs planted in lawns are normally less susceptible than those in containers and borders.

Crocus flowers are adored by bees of every type. But they are a particularly good source of nectar for early-flowering Queen bumble bees because the chalice-shaped flower create their own warm cup of air and this warmth encourages nectar to flow - even on cold days.

Keep an eye out for virus, which sometimes shows itself by twisting up the petals into a corkscrew. Ditch any affected bulbs.

Dutch crocus varieties for lawns


A striped arrangement of silver-lilac petals inlaid over purple. Always the earliest to flower - hence the name.

'Jeanne d'Arc'

A pure-white crocus with yellow anthers

'Yellow Mammoth'

A giant bright-yellow crocus which is often pecked by sparrows!

'Grand Maitre'

A silvery lavender-violet goblet.

Blue bulbs for the bulb lawn

Some small blue bulbs do very well in grass and they self seed - sometimes a little too liberally!

Chionodoxa forbesii

One of the best - it bears about fifteen blue flowers marked with a white central zone. It self seeds and spreads (20 -25 cm/10 inches).

Scilla bifolia

This bears pale-violet blue flowers in a small cone-shaped flower head that hangs to one side of the stem in a floppy way. These are followed by large seed heads and this bulb is probably too invasive for a border (5 - 10 cm / 2 - 4 inches).

Scilla siberica

The three or four nodding, bell-shaped flowers are an almost-gentian blue and they appear on a straight stem in March. These will not push up through thick turf - but they are useful in thinner swards. Some self-seeding occurs - although much less thuggish than S. bifolia (5 - 10 cm/ 2 -4 inches).

Mowing your bulb lawn

This has to wait for between six and eight weeks after flowering - at least. This allows the bulbs to die down naturally having replenished their food stocks. It is also a good idea to lift any leafy clumps and bed them out singly to allow them to bulk up. Mowing usually has to wait until late June - but you could could make the area look maintained by mowing round it or cutting a path through.


Avon Bulbs -

Peter Nyssen -

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.