bulbs in lawns

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Wed, 01 Sep 2004 16:03:40 PDT
I think Jim McKenney is being too harsh about the appearance of crocuses in 
lawns. Of course, in western North America our lawns are on a different 
schedule -- brown in summer and green in winter, unless the owner waters 
them a whole lot -- and we don't grow zoysia. Here I think it is basically 
perennial ryegrass.

I don't have any fall crocuses in the lawn because I mow it into November. 
The best species for spring is C. tommasinianus, because its leaves tend to 
spread out horizontally, and you can mow  the lawn without cutting off too 
much of the crocus foliage before it ripens. If you invest in the named 
varieties in deep purple shades, they are quite pretty. I find that rodents 
don't go after crocuses in grass as badly as they do when the bulbs are in 
a border.

The only other bulbs I have in grass are Narcissus obvallaris (the English 
wild daffodil) and some Narcissus 'Jenny', and Ornithogalum umbellatum; 
these are in patches around which I mow until the foliage withers, as Jim 
Shields described, but they're down in a sort of hollow off to the side of 
the main garden, not on the front lawn.

There is a public garden in Portland, Oregon, called Bishop's Close (it was 
the Episcopal Church headquarters at one time) where Crocus tommasinianus, 
Eranthis hyemalis, and Anemone blanda are extensively naturalized in grass. 
I'm not sure what the mowing schedule is there.

Rock gardening books often recommend planting naturally small, slow-growing 
alpine grasses as a setting for alpine meadow plants. I haven't yet found a 
grass that will both survive and stay within bounds, so haven't 
experimented with such a planting.

One thing I'd like to do someday: I have a little circular lawn on a 
terrace behind the house, now studded with crocuses in spring. I think I 
could grow other flowering plants in small plastic mesh pots and pop them 
into holes made in the turf with a bulb planter (I have some pots the right 
size), and lift them out when I needed to mow. It would be labor-intensive, 
but it would look like a millefleurs tapestry. Maybe when I'm an old lady 
in a little house with a tiny lawn!

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

>Jim Shields has opened a topic on which I would like to expand. Who else
>grows bulbs in the lawn? I do, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to
>anyone who is sensitive to criticism from the neighbors.
>Here in Maryland it was a particular temptation because we have a zoysia
>lawn. For those of you who don't know it, zoysia (the genus Zoysia has
>several members but only one is important in this area) is what is
>sometimes called a warm-weather grass. It's green and growing roughly
>between May and September. From October through April it's brown (light tan
>actually). In other words, the growth cycle of the zoysia lawn compliments
>that of vernal bulbs and fall crocus perfectly.
>That big expanse of zoysia was so tempting that I jumped in very
>enthusiastically and planted Chionodoxa, Galanthus elwesii and Crocus
>speciosus by the thousand.
>It's hardly been trouble free. The squirrels ate about 2/3 of the crocus
>during the first few weeks. They don't seem to have touched them since
>(several years). The local squirrels rarely touch established Crocus
>speciosus, but newly planted corms are another matter.
>Going into this, I thought the long fall-winter dormancy of the zoysia
>would make this planting of bulbs in grass a carefree delight. I would mow
>the zoysia routinely until early September; then allow the autumn crocus to
>bloom; then give the zoysia a last hard mowing around Thanksgiving to keep
>it tidy looking during the winter. (I've noticed that that word 'tidy' is
>often associated in some way or another with various horticultural
>lamentations). The snowdrops and  glories of the snow would bloom and ripen
>before the zoysia became active. Once seed was collected and they were out
>of the way, regular mowing would be resumed sometime in May.
>It looked great on paper.
>I had not taken into account the profusion of lusty winter-growing weeds.
>Now I understand so well the meaning of the word opportunistic. Where in
>the world did all those weedy Cardamine, Stellaria, Draba, Ranunculus,
>Erigeron, Allium and others suddenly come from? Our soil bank must be the
>Fort Knox of soil banks.
>In over forty years of mowing that zoysia lawn, I never noticed these gate
>crashers in such profusion. Had they been lurking all that time? Zoysia
>lawns take a long time to become established; typically, some clumps of
>other lawn grasses remain here and there until they give up. Because of the
>presence of those cool season grasses, the zoysia lawn was mowed
>occasionally in the off season. That evidently was enough to obscure the
>presence of the weed hoards. Zoysia forms such a thick turf that it
>competes successfully with almost anything else as long as it gets plenty
>of sun. It will get by on infrequent mowing, although to keep the
>putting-green look regular mowing is essential.
>In other words, if you are sitting around thinking how charming the lawn
>would look spangled with crocus or snowdrops, get a grip: it's an
>invitation to a real mess. Neighbors you barely know will stop by to ask
>when you will be baling the hay. Or to offer the use of their lawn mower.
>Or to recommend their lawn service. Or to ask if that might have been a rat
>they saw scurrying into the thickets. Or, if you live in that sort of
>neighborhood, to ask if you are trying to establish a meadow (or to get rid
>of an existing one).
>By the way, a lawn spangled with crocus looks a lot like a lawn spangled
>with fast food debris and gum and candy wrappers.
>Jim McKenney
>Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where each year during
>crocus season the Sugar Plum Fairy dumps her rejects and production
>over-run all over our front lawn.
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