Naturalizing spring flowering bulbs

A garden that is planned but looks unplanned is called a naturalized garden. The beauty of a naturalized garden is it looks as if it popped up naturally.

Flower garden

Looking at a garden, you often see it as a formal or informal design depending on the designer’s intent. One style of gardening that is planned but may look unplanned is called a naturalized garden. The beauty of a naturalized garden is it looks as if it popped up naturally. The rhythm or the flow of the garden enhances nature, often giving your mind a chance to wonder and appreciate nature in a bold way.

Even though this garden space looks natural, planning and selecting the right plants or mix of plants is critical. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planting bulbs that will naturalize:

  • Plan to leave the planting bed in for a number of years.
  • The bulbs and the bed will take on a life of their own as the bulbs begin naturalizing.
  • Select bulbs that self-propagate (reproduce on their own).
  • The bulbs should be able to adapt to a broad range of climates.
  • The bulbs cannot be terribly fussy about moisture, light or soil type.
  • The bulbs should also be vigorous without becoming invasive.

Great places to naturalize bulbs are in areas that require less maintenance such as on the edges of woodlands, along the roadside or almost anywhere that the early spring color will brighten your day. However, it should be an area where the bulbs can be left alone after planning (little weeding, no foot traffic, etc.).

Once the flowers have faded, the foliage should be allowed to die back. This can take several weeks. The foliage isn’t very attractive but allowing it to die back naturally gives the foliage time to take in sunlight to recharge the bulb for the following spring.

Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, grape hyacinths, many alliums and heirloom tulips, also known as “species” or wild tulips, are ideal for naturalizing. Bulb catalogs are a great place to look for varieties to naturalize.

Supplies and instructions for planting bulbs to naturalize


  • Trowel, shovel or bulb planter
  • Bulbs
  • Garden hose or string
  • Compost (optional)
  • Mulch (optional)


  • Select a planting site. Most bulbs do best in full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid wet areas with heavy clay soil.
  • Outline the boundaries of the planting area with a garden hose or string. Scatter the bulbs by tossing them here and there across the planting area inside the hose or string.
  • Dig holes with a trowel or bulb planter. The holes need to be about three times the height of the bulb. Shallow planting tends to weaken the bulb because it is more prone to drying out.
  • Plant the bulbs with their points facing up and roots facing down.
  • Break up some of the soil or turf you removed and fill back around the bulb once it is in the hole. Tamp the surface.
  • After planting the bulbs, broadcast fertilizer over the planting area. Good natural fertilizers are alfalfa meal and dried seaweed. Synthetic fertilizers that are well balanced like a 10-10-10 are also a good choice.
  • Top dress the entire planting area with a screened compost or topsoil.

After the bulbs are planted, sit back and enjoy the spring show. Be sure to photograph your garden as it naturalizes and takes on a life of its own from year to year.

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