bulbs in lawns; was: Re: [pbs] Lycoris passeth, Cochicum cometh, the seasons march along

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Wed, 01 Sep 2004 15:34:33 PDT
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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