Crocus In Lawns: Tips For Growing Crocus In The Yard
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Early-spring crocus have much to offer and they needn’t be restricted to the flower bed. Just imagine a lawn filled with blooms in colors such as bright purple, white, gold, pink or pale lavender. Once established, the thick carpets of color require surprisingly little care.
Growing Crocus in Lawns
If you’re thinking about growing crocus in the yard, there are several things to consider. If you like a lawn that is luxurious, lush and heavily fertilized, planting handfuls of crocus may be a waste of time because the bulbs have little chance of competing with a stand of thick grass.
If you’re fussy about your lawn and you like it perfectly manicured, you may not be happy with the little guys popping up all over the place. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to mow for a few weeks, or until the tops of the crocus turn yellow. If you mow too soon, the bulbs may not have the get up and go for another season of blooming because the foliage absorbs sunlight that converts to energy.
Crocus is ideally suited for a spot where grass is sparse – possibly a spot under a deciduous tree or in a forgotten patch of lawn.
How to Grow Crocus Lawns
Plan (and plant) your crocus lawn carefully; with any luck, the bulbs will last for several years.
Plant the bulbs when the ground is cool in autumn, six to eight weeks before the first hard frost. Choose a spot where the soil drains well.
If you’re planting crocus bulbs in existing turf, you can lift the turf and roll it back carefully. Dig a little compost or manure into the exposed soil, then plant the crocus bulbs. Roll the turf back into place and tamp it so it makes firm contact with the ground.
If you’re thinking that naturalizing crocus bulbs will provide a more natural appearance, you’re right. For a truly natural look, just scatter a handful of bulbs and plant them where they fall. Steer clear of perfect rows.
Crocus Varieties for Lawns
Small, early blooming crocus varieties have fine-textured foliage that blends well with lawn grass. Additionally, they tend to compete with turf more effectively than larger, late-blooming types.
Many gardeners who have successfully grown crocus lawns recommend C. Tommasinianus, often known as “Tommies.”
This small, star-shaped variety is available in several colors, including “Pictus,” which provides delicate lavender bulbs with purple tips, or “Roseus” with blooms are pinkish-lavender. “Ruby Giant” blooms are reddish purple, “Lilac Beauty” boasts pale lavender crocus with pink inner petals, and “Whitewell Purple” displays reddish-purple blooms.
This article was last updated on
A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.
I first saw naturalized bulbs on the lawn of a giant Victorian home many years ago. The lush green of spring combined with an acre of blue flowers was breathtaking and I knew I wanted to do the same on our property one day.
The big caveat is, sometimes these bulb-filled lawns are populated with invasive or aggressive species replacing one mono-culture (lawn) with another. Although the bulbs, at least, should support pollinators with their nectar and pollen.
So, before you do anything, confirm with local authorities that your choices are suited to your region and will not cause future problems. This is not something unique to bulbs but to every plant you choose for your garden.
There are many uses of the word ‘naturalize’ for lawns. For this project I mean, achieving a natural look when planting flowering bulbs in a grass lawn, leaving the bulbs to spread (multiply) as they do naturally.
In the end, there will be a combination of grass lawn and a sea of low-growing polliantor-friendly flowers in early spring.
Growing Away From a Lawn-Centric Garden
This project is not for anyone who likes a heavily-fertilized, robust, carpet-like lawn. The bulbs will probably not be able to compete with the grass or handle the fertilizer. And they need to live out their natural life cycle before you mow your grass in spring.
It is perfect for poor quality lawns like mine. Situated on very sandy soil, my grass struggles at best. There are large bare patches and areas where moss has taken over. Truthfully, I’d be happy if it was entirely moss or a low, walkable ground cover (like I’ve started planting here), so I wouldn’t have to bother with it.
As it is, I usually only have to mow the lawn a few times each summer, but never would be better.
Why don’t I improve the grass? Time, money, and environmental concerns. Commercial lawn fertilizers do terrible damage to our waterways. Most grass is non-native and offers little or nothing to pollinators. And I take no pleasure in mowing grass. And, of all the ways I could spend money on our garden, lawn care does not make the top 100.
Some people suggest turning the entire lawn into garden but that too is expensive and labor-intensive.
My compromise is to accept a low-quality lawn and add spring-flowering bulbs to give it a burst of color at the start of each growing season.
You could also select fall-flowering bulbs and stop mowing late summer to allow their growth.
I’ll show you what I chose and how it’s going.
You Grow Girl
Before I start, let me issue a word of caution. If you have any ideas about planting daffodils in your lawn for that Wordsworth-like field of golden daffodils effect – don’t. That is not what I mean by naturalizing bulbs.
A friend of mine, seduced by the copy in a bulb catalog (not ours!) ordered hundreds of daffodil and tulip bulbs and, according to instructions, knelt in her side yard and tossed them gently on the lawn, planting them wherever they fell to achieve a natural look.
But then the grass began to grow – and the foliage had not yet begun to ripen, so mowing wasn’t possible. Cutting down bulb foliage before it has properly ripened will deprive the bulb of much needed nourishment and make for a poor second-year display. And the grass just kept getting taller.
After a couple months of crawling around the yard with lawn clippers trying to keep things tidy enough that the neighbors wouldn’t scream, my friend threw up her hands arid mulched the whole side yard to kill the grass (for she would never kill those lovely daffodils!) and a new garden was born.
Now she is wiser, and naturalizes her bulbs in areas that won’t need mowing – under trees where, in spring, there is an abundance of sunshine during bloom time, but too much shade for grass to flourish afterward. Or in a wild garden with grasses arid native plants, or in a woodland garden where groundcover, rather than lawn is the order of the day. Bulbs can even be “naturalized” in a garden, where later-emerging foliage will hide their sad remains.
Exactly What is Naturalizing?
Basically, it is planting masses of bulbs in such a way that they look like they grew there naturally, and of such varieties that they can be left to themselves to expand to ever-greater abundance.
What this means is that you want to choose bulbs that are sure to not only return, but also increase
When most of us think of naturalized bulbs, we think of tulips and daffodils, and yes – these bulbs can naturalize very nicely. But some are better than others.
In tulips, look for botanical and species tulips such as Tulip Violacea ‘Pallida’ – a lovely little white tulip with a bright blue base that will colonize quite nicely. Or try the new ‘Come Back’ tulip in bright red with a black base. I have found that some of the Triumph tulips, especially Apricot Beauty return well for me – although they don’t always increase.
In daffodils, once again the species daffodils and many of the older varieties, such as King Alfred, Dutch Master and Carleton are best. A brand new tulip called (blush!) The Bulb Lady also happens to be a great naturalizer, and with its long yellow trumpet and slightly reflexed petals is quite lovely (if I do say so myself).
Grape hyacinths naturalize well, and look gorgeous with all that yellow and white. Virginia bluebells are another great companion, especially if you have gone more for white daffs and tulips that pink opening into blue is a constant delight.
Then there are crocus. You cannot go wrong naturalizing tons of crocus – even in the lawn. They are the first things to open near my house, and such a welcome sight that I keep planting more and more. I remember seeing a church in Connecticut that was a veritable Persian carpet of crocus and it was a splendid thing. The bonus us that because they are early and small, they are probably ready to be mowed when your lawn is.
Don’t forget ferns. Not only do they add a wonderfully natural look to any naturalized area but they will grow tip and fill in to hide the bulbs foliage when it begins to yellow.
The key to a lovely planting is to choose a limited palette of colors, and to mass them. You know the shape of a paisley? Try to plant huge paisley shapes of one color, interlocking with paisley shapes of another. You can mix plants, but if you start intermingling too many colors you not only get a blur, but an unnatural effect for your naturalized garden. After all, in nature single plants spread and form masses – and that is what you are trying to achieve here, too.
Of course one problem with trying to achieve a truly lovely massed effect is that you have to contend with critters. Squirrels have been known to rearrange my crocus, and voles think of them as their own personal buffet. So the first thing to think of at planting time is creature-protection. Planting tulips and daffodils deep (8 to I 0 inches) puts them out of reach of the voles if your soil is too rocky then try planting each bulb with a handful of sharp grit or gravel mixed in with the planting medium. This irritates their tender little noses and they tend to leave your bulbs alone.
When you do plant, it is easiest to dig a large patch of earth up – enough for several bulbs at a time – than it is to dig separate holes for dozens – or hundreds- of bulbs. Make sure you are planting in a well-drained area, as too much damp can cause bulbs to rot. Scatter the bulbs into your hole in groupings – odd numbers always work best. And when you replace the soil be sure to amend it with some sand, perlite or crushed gravel if needed. And don’t forget bulb food – compost, bonemeal, bloodmeal or kelp will help to get things off to a healthy start.
If you have areas around a tree, or under shrubs, or in areas of your yard that can go without mowing until early mid-summer, or simply areas of your garden that could use a spring boost but will fill out with ferns, daylilies, hostas or other good foliage-hiders later, consider naturalizing a bushel or two of bulbs. The spring boost it will give you will just get better every year.
Bulbs to Naturalize
- Snowdrops – Galanthus nivalis
- Glory of the Snow – Chinodoxa
- Crocus (all kinds)
- Iris reticulata
- Tulips (botanical or species, Tulipa tarda, some Darwins and Triumph tulips
- Anemone blanda
- Siberian Squill – Scilla siberica
- Striped squill – Puschkinia
- Grape Hyacinth – muscari
- Guinea hen flower – Fritillaria meleagris
- Dogs Tooth Violet – Erythronium
- Siberian Iris
- Hardy Asiatic lilies
- Aurelian Hybrid lilies
How to grow crocuses
Plat crocus corms in moist but well-drained soil in full sun, planting the corms at a depth of three times their own size. You can grow crocus at the front of a border, naturalised in grass or in pots. Always let the foliage die back completely after flowering.
Where to plant crocuses
Most crocus varieties need to be planted in a sunny, open position. They’ll successfully naturalise in grass to make a lovely spring meadow. Certain species, such as Crocus gargaricus, need moist but well-drained soil and will grow in partial shade too.
Crocuses can be grown in pots, either on their own, or mixed with other spring-flowering bulbs. Add plenty of grit for drainage.
How to plant crocuses
Plant crocuses in well-drained or very gritty and free-draining soil or compost. Saffron crocus and other autumn flowering varieties need to be planted quite deep – about 10cm in well-drained, rich soil in a sunny situation and 7.5cm apart.
Make sure you plant your crocus corms with pointed tip facing upwards and the flattened end at the bottom of your planting hole.
In this Gardeners’ World clip, Monty Don explains how to plant crocuses in a border:
Here, Kevin Smith explains how to layer crocuses with other bulbs in a pot:
In this No Fuss video guide. Alan Titchmarsh explains how to naturalise crocuses in a lawn:
How to care for crocuses
If you have crocuses that have naturalised in grass, don’t cut the lawn until the flowers have died and the leaves have yellowed and disappeared.
Spring-flowering crocus come into flower as the sun warms up the soil. However, autumn-flowering crocuses respond to decreasing soil temperatures. So, in milder autumns, flowering may not be so vigorous if the nights aren’t cool enough.
How to propagate crocuses
Crocuses will multiply once established and create their own colonies. If you want to propagate your collection, dig up large clumps in autumn and split them into smaller ones, or clean off individual corms and pot up.
Growing crocuses: problem solving
Crocuses are relatively trouble-free, although newly planted bulbs may fall prey to hungry squirrels in the autumn, so it’s worth netting grassy areas, or covering pots with wire mesh.
Key Requirement #1: Choose the Right Crocus
any readers told us that small, early-blooming species crocus did well in their lawns, especially Crocus tommasinianus, affectionately known as tommies. The traditional, larger, later-flowering “Dutch” crocus, C. vernus, seem to have a harder time in lawns, though see the advice below from the Missouri Botanical Garden.
“I’ve seen old lawns in the [zone-8] Seattle area covered with crocus,” wrote Deirdre Zema. “It seems to work best for the earliest bloomers. The later bloomers get mowed too soon to do well long term. In the lawn of my 1916 Craftsman bungalow, the crocus are in full sun, but the lawn is kind of thin in that area. This seems to be true of the other lawns I see them in, too.”
Back east in zone-7/8 Arlington, VA, Julia Tanner wrote: “Here near the Potomac River, many lawns (including ours) sport crocus that come back year after year. Perhaps it is climate perhaps it is the lack of manmade chemicals on our small yard goodness knows I’d be surprised if the secret is the clay soil. The lawns range from full sun to a fair amount of shade. They’re not very thick, for the most part. The crocus varieties are at least C. tommasinianus and possibly C. chrysanthus as well.” (Opinions on C. chrysanthus are mixed see below.)
“Squirrels and other animals sometimes eat the [traditional] ‘Dutch’ crocus in our neighborhood,” Julia added, “but the lawn crocus rarely if ever seem to be consumed. Perhaps the turf deters the critters, or perhaps the ‘Dutch’ crocus just taste better.”
David Enoch of zone-6 Warren, OH, had a similar report: “Crocus are a delicacy on the squirrel and chipmunk diet, and any I have planted in flower beds seem to disappear after a few years. The ones I’ve casually buried here and there in the lawn, on the other hand, come up and bloom nicely every year, though with no noticeable increase.”
From New England, Bill Andreas wrote: “There are several patches of what I’d guess are Crocus tommasinianus happily growing in the front lawns of several of the older farm houses here [in zone-6 Sudbury, MA]. One patch is at least 15 feet in diameter forming a nice lavender lawn. No one knows when they were planted (‘they came with the house’ is what most people say), so in at least one case they’ve been there for at least fifty years. In all cases, they are happily growing in somewhat thin lawns which are partially shaded by deciduous trees.” As for C. vernus, he added, “While there are patches of larger-flowered crocus persisting in other areas, none of those seem to be established in lawns.”
Helen Lord moved to England eight years ago, but she still reads our newsletter and offered this perspective from abroad: “Lots of older homes, parks, and even old churchyards here have crocus growing by the thousand in the lawn. Most seem to be species crocus, particularly Crocus tommasinianus, as well as Crocus vernus and its subspecies albiflorus. They grow happily in scruffy, thin lawn and in lightly shaded lawn areas under high trees. I suspect benign neglect allows them to flourish since the turf is far from the thick sod that is such a desired element in many American gardens.”
Spring-Flowering Bulbs to Plant in.
Flower Bulb Problems and Solutions
When to Plant Flowers
Best Bulbs for Naturalizing
Christmas Plants: Poinsettia.
How to Overwinter Your Plants and.
Growing Allium: The Ornamental.
Spring Ephemerals: The First.
Planting Tulip Bulbs in Winter
The Best Fall Flowers for Your.
How to Naturalize Bulbs in a Lawn
When I arrived to Quebec City over 40 years ago, I was stunned by the beautiful blue spring lawns seen in some older parts of the city. The blue flowers were Siberian squills (Scilla siberica) and they grew there by the thousands, mixed right in with the grasses. This was all the more surprising in that other lawns of the same neighborhoods were still in their dull brown early spring phase, that of a totally dormant lawn. Then, after the squills finish blooming, their flowers and leaves simply fade away, just as the grass begins to turn green. So the blue lawn turns into a regular green lawn and remains so for the rest of the season!
I promised myself that if ever I owned a lawn one day, I was going to stuff it with small spring flowers… and that’s exactly what I did. Every spring, when the snow melts, my little lawn turn into a flowery meadow. And not only in blue, but also yellow, pink and white. Note that not all these early bulbs bloom at the same time, instead there are waves of color: the same location can go from yellow to white to blue over the some 6 to 9 weeks that this early flowering lasts. It’s absolutely magical and it is, in fact, the only reason I continue to have a lawn at all.
You see, I feel lawns require a lot more maintenance than a laid-back gardener like myself really wants to put into them. So I eliminated the lawn everywhere on my property, replacing it with more self-maintaining plantations like shrubs and no-care perennials. But I’ve kept just one section of lawn: my little flowering meadow where the bulbs appear each spring. True enough, it still requires maintenance, but not as much as neighbors’ lawns, because I sowed a low maintenance lawn mix. As a result, I only need to mow a few times a year, plus I leave the grass clippings in place, so I never need to fertilizer. Therefore I can therefore consider my flower meadow to be still pretty low maintenance.
How to Naturalize Bulbs in a Lawn
Naturalizing bulbs in a lawn is surprisingly easy. Simply cut a cut out a chunk of turf on three sides, then flip it over on the fourth side, as in the picture. This will give you a planting hole just about exactly the right depth for your bulbs. I actually just toss the bulbs into the hole and space them approximately with the tip of my shovel, but if you want to be precise, you’re supposed to space them about 3 times the width of the bulb and turn them right side up (with the point facing upwards). You can plant pure patches of bulbs, one sort per planting hole, but I like to mix mine, making sure to include extra-early, early and mid-season bulbs in the same spot for a longer show.
When you’ve finished placing your bulbs, drop the turf back into place, push down on it with your foot and water well. The following spring the bulbs will grow right up through the turf as if it weren’t there.
Maintaining Naturalized Bulbs
Actually, naturalized bulbs requite no maintenance. The term “naturalize” means “recreate a natural state.” You plant the bulbs and you let them go through their natural cycle, that’s all. They emerge in spring with leaves and blooms, then disappear underground as soon as the grass starts to turn green, that’s all. Most bulbs will in fact multiply in the lawn over time, by self-seeding or division. I’m sure the vast blue squill lawns I still see in old Quebec City neighborhoods probably all started with only a few dozen bulbs that since spread on their own.
Crocus tomassinianus spreads readlly when planted in a lawn.
My first experience with naturalizing bulbs in a lawn occurred when I was 10 years old. Having read a text on naturalizating bulbs in a one of my father’s garden catalogs, I was eager to try it, so with his permission, I planted a bag of 10 Crocus tommasinianus corms in a single spot in the vast lawn. I was pleased to death when the bulbs came up and bloomed the following spring and over the years they began to spread.
Well, that was there more than 50 years ago. My brother, who now owns the house, assures me that there are now thousands of flowers every spring and that almost one third of the lawn now turns purple in the spring! All from 10 original bulbs: isn’t nature wonderful?
Which Bulbs to Naturalize in a Lawn?
You can theoretically naturalize any hardy spring or fall flowering bulb in a lawn, but early spring bloomers are best, because they don’t interfere with lawn mowing: they are gone or nearly so (they don’t mind having the tips of their leaves clipped) by the time you need to mow your lawn.
Mascara look great in a lawn, but you’ll have to mow around them.
Mid-season and late-season bulbs, though, cause a problem. If you plant bulbs that bloom just a bit later in the season, such as grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) or most narcissi (Narcissus spp.), they will be in full bloom just when the grass needs its first mowing. Okay, the grape hyacinths and narcissi in a lawn are beautiful and you can simply mow around them, but that’s an extra effort. I prefer to naturalize later-blooming bulbs like these in a forest or a flowerbed, where the mower never goes, so there is no need to skirt around them and where their foliage can mature without interference.
So from my point of view, the grape hyacinths are not good bulbs for naturalization, at least in a lawn, nor are midseason or late narcissi. However, the earliest narcissi, such as ‘February Gold’, do make good bulbs for naturalizing.
Here are the best bulbs to naturalize in a lawn:
- Bulbocodium (Bulbocodium vernum) zone 2
- Crocus* (Crocus spp.) Zone 3
- Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa spp.) Zone 3
- Narcissi (early varieties) (Narcissus spp.) Zone 3
- Puschkinia (Puschkinia scilloides) Zone 3
- Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) Zone 3
- Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) Zone 4
- Squill (Scilla spp.) Zones 2-7
- Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) Zone 4
*In very heavy soils (dense clay), crocuses are often not very perennial and will disappear over time. You’ll have to replenish the planting with new bulbs occasionally. In a well-drained soil, however, the crocuses are just as persistent as any other bulb.