Naturalize your bulbs for unexpected color

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— The entrance way to the house of my friend Kathleen was left in its natural state. There are some gambel oak, serviceberry and chokecherry trees and native grasses, but what I especially love about her entrance in the springtime is a merry drift of daffodils that pops up through the grasses.

Several kinds of bulbs can be naturalized in a woodland, lawn, meadow or field to bring you cheerful early spring color. These plants will spread themselves by seed, stolons and bulblets every year like wildflowers with very little effort on your part.

To achieve a natural look with bulbs, plant them in drifts or random masses. If planted in a yard or meadow, use bulbs whose flowering will be over and whose foliage will yellow before you're ready to mow. Early flowering plants include crocus, daffodil, snowdrops and squill.

For the Steamboat area, bulbs will do best if planted in early to late September. Look for the largest bulbs of the type you desire that are cold-hardy for our Zone 3-4 environment.

To naturalize bulbs, scatter them in the area you want to plant. Where the bulbs land, dig individual holes about an inch deeper than the desired planting depth. Toss some compost and a little fertilizer in the bottom and set the bulb onto the soft soil bed. Cover with additional soil, water well and enjoy the springtime display every year.

If you're planting a lot of bulbs or have hard-packed soil, dig up a large area with your spade instead of an individual bulb planter and place the bulbs as suggested above.

If you have a problem with voles, chipmunks and other rodents, place a little Tabasco sauce, onion or garlic pepper, or red pepper flakes, in the hole with the bulb.

Or saturate the soil with a product such as MoleMed.

In the spring after the plant has flowered, leave the faded flowerhead on the plants so seeds can mature and spread.

I love gardening surprises and find that a burst of color in an unexpected place adds personality and charm to a property. Naturalizing bulbs is an easy way to achieve that effect.

Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. No endorsement of products mentioned in this article is intended. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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