Crocuses in the Lawn: Planting

– Posted in: Hardscaping and Projects, How-to, New House, New Gardens

Is This A Good Place to Plant Bulbs?

Crocus in the Lawn Planting Pinterest badgeIn my previous post on crocuses in the lawn, I explained why I chose the site I did. It had southern exposure, so the snow melted early there, and was near enough to the driveway so that anyone arriving would be sure to see them. So this site was perfect to satisfy my emotional goal of seeing flowers blooming–colorful flowers–as early as possible in the horticultural year. But I recognized that in terms of practicality, that is, how easily and quickly this planting could be accomplished, and how long it would endure, it was really not such a great spot. The problems were:

  • clay soil
  • rocky soil
  • tree roots
  • rodents

From a practical standpoint, about the only thing going for this site was that I was physically capable of doing the work–however slowly or inefficiently–and the bulbs didn’t cost me anything, thanks to Longwood Gardens’ generous offer. That was sufficient for heart to overrule head, sufficient for me to bet against the odds, sufficient to justify the work in the name of educating myself and my readers.

A lot of people let their heart overrule their head without really considering how they are going to deal with the disadvantages of their current garden project. This is one benefit of experience: you can anticipate and plan for difficulties. Here’s what I was thinking about before I got started.

How I Deal With…

Clay soil: Don’t even bother trying to dig until the soil is moist, unless you like using a mattock. On the other hand, hold off if the soil is super-saturated. Crocus corms will rot in soggy soil, but I’m counting on the tree roots to suck up enough moisture during the summer to keep rot away. The trees are still dormant when the crocuses need the moisture most. During the summer, crocuses are fine with dry soil.

Rocky soil: Rocks? What rocks? I assumed there were plenty of rocks, because I had found them in every other place on our property I had dug. But it was always possible the previous owners had brought in good garden soil over the front lawn. (A girl can dream, can’t she?) As it turns out–well, you’ll see.

Tree roots: Contrary to what you may have been told, all those fine feeder roots in the top couple inches of soil are very important to trees. I wanted to disturb them as little as possible. There is a technique for planting bulbs in lawn that calls for peeling back the sod, planting the bulbs and then replacing the sod. That method would damage the tree roots too much, so it was out of the question here.

Rodents: I had seen squirrels, chipmunks, and voles hanging around before I planted a single corm. Besides planting Crocus tommasinianus, which is supposedly not as appealing to them, I was just going to hope that the rodents found the ground hard to dig and would ignore this planting in favor of more easily acquired food. This seemed to deter them from ravaging the Crocus Bank at the old house, so it’s not just wishful thinking.

Measure Once, Dig Four Hundred Times

I put four tent stakes in the ground, outlining my best guess of 5ft by 5ft. Then I measured. I overestimated.

I put four tent stakes in the ground, outlining my best guess of 5ft by 5ft. Then I measured. I overestimated.

I am not very good at estimating distance, area, or volume, and after going to the trouble to calculate how many bulbs I would need to plant in a twenty-five foot square area, I decided to measure it. Since I am going to do this planting in stages, I want to maintain the same bulb planting density through the years, so in the end it all looks like one planting.

Four hundred crocus corms of various species and cultivars

Four hundred crocus corms of various species and cultivars

I emptied all the corms out of their net bags into the shipping box. It seemed impossible that all those bulbs were going to fit into that five foot square. Of course, I wasn’t going to be legalistic about it. I knew I might have to skip areas with tree roots or unearthable rocks, but if I hadn’t measured I know I would have spaced them farther apart.

Which Tool Works Best?

I never know until I start what is going to be the most efficient way to get the job done. I had several tools at my disposal: a dibble, a garden knife, the Pro-Plugger, a dandelion weeder, and this DeWit Small Bulb Planter:

DeWit small bulb planter

This works really well in garden beds, but it’s too difficult to drive through heavy clay.

The DeWit planter felt like a well-made, sturdy, good-for-a-lifetime kind of tool, but it was difficult to drive through the rocky, clay soil. (It worked perfectly in a cultivated garden bed.) I had used the dibble (to make the holes) and the dandelion weeder (to pry rocks out of the holes) when planting crocuses in the Crocus Bank at the old house. Pushing it through the soil here, I wondered at my past strength and stamina. I could do it, but it was hard, and the resulting hole was narrower at the bottom, so the crocus corm couldn’t go all the way down without resting over an air space. For making holes, the Pro-Plugger (which I received free to review), worked best.
holes made with the pro plugger

Here are some of the initial holes I made with the ProPlugger

I tried to make each row of holes offset from the row before it, but didn’t always manage it. For that matter, my rows had a tendency to lean in one direction, and then I’d see gaps where I could squeeze in another bulb. None of this concerned me, because I wasn’t after a regimented effect. And having not even embarked on this project until November, I was more concerned about getting it done before snow fell–and stuck. We had already had a dusting or two.

Rocks? Yes, Plenty of Rocks!

The Pro-Plugger could cut through the sod, and made a nice, flat-bottomed hole, but even it couldn’t slice through rocks. The crocuses were supposed to be planted three inches deep, but here’s a sampling of hole depths after using the Pro-Plugger:

various planting depths

Not all holes are created equal. Some have rock at the bottom sooner than others.

I used the planting knife to pry rocks out of the holes. The knife is very strong, and it was surprising how big some of the rocks were that I managed to pull out of the ground.
rock pile

All these rocks came from one five foot square of lawn. I took this picture on the last day.

When I had pried one or more rocks out of a hole, then I dropped a crocus corm in, and put the sod “lid” back on.
holes capped

Here you can see the sod lids covering the crocuses.

Really? It Only Took Six Days?

So, to review, my method went like this:

  1. Made a row of holes with the Pro-Plugger
  2. Systematically went down the row, prying out rocks and dropping a corm in.
  3. Starting from the beginning, removed the “lids” or plugs from the top of the Pro-Plugger and pushed them back into the hole they came from.
  4. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I started November 5th and finished November 11th, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t work on it every day. Prying rocks out of each hole was tedious. It was cold and damp. The first day I worked on this, the high for the day was 36F. The following days were 45F, 36F, 43F, 44F, 49F, and 74F(!) on the last day. I often wondered if I should bother prying out the rocks, but when I didn’t, the lids often didn’t fit on top. Of course, after I removed the rocks, sometimes the lids sunk below soil level. This is madness, I thought. In my more romantic moments, I’m suffering for my art. And we really won’t know until spring if I suffered in vain.

But one thing I do know. Some critter already got into my horticultural cookie jar.

crocus robbed

On the second day of planting, I discovered my crocus patch had been raided.

On the other hand, since I planted these crocuses we have been adopted by a cat. A hunting cat. So maybe the losses come spring will be few.

At any rate, I’m done.

Done planting crocuses in the lawn.

Four hundred corms. Six days.

For this year.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Pat Curran February 8, 2013, 3:45 pm

I grow most of my crocuses between my 2 rows of blueberries, and also on the slope just below the blueberries. I mulch them with pea gravel, which seems to stop digging. Where the pea gravel looks funny (between the blueberries), I just put some woodchip mulch on top of the gravel.
So far, and it’s been several years, none of the crocus have had any trouble sprouting up through almost 2 inches of gravel. If I start to see dirt, I just add more gravel.
My deer fence prevents deer from eating the tops after they sprout. All my crocus have been forced in the house first, allowed to grow until the leaves turn brown naturally, and then planted out in May or later. The biggest problem is keeping the mice eating the corms in the house; I lost 3 pots of crocus in early December because some rodent climbed up to the top shelf in my attached garage.

Kathy Purdy February 8, 2013, 5:20 pm

That must look really pretty–all those crocuses lighting up the rows between the still dormant blueberries. A clever way to double up in the garden.

Orange County Water Damage Repair January 8, 2013, 9:36 pm

Thank you for the instructions! I love that you have pictures for each step. It makes it much easier to follow and visualize!

Tina January 7, 2013, 1:56 pm

Wow. I just read through your past three entries on crocuses (because crocuses are my favouite Spring flower next to tulips), and you’ve worked hard! I wondered how you’d mow your lawn, but I guess the flowers do shed before your grass grows high enough to be mowed. Keep up the good work, and I’ll be coming back for more!

Kathy Purdy January 7, 2013, 2:12 pm

This area will get part shade and the grass is sparse, with a lot of moss. (Check the photo of the DeWit bulb planter to see what I mean.) So the area will not be mowed until the crocus foliage has died down.

debra January 6, 2013, 5:52 pm

Kathy, this is going to be gorgeous in only a few months’ time. Dreamy drifts of crocus – I can’t wait! What a fun way to start the New Year~ Debra

Louise January 6, 2013, 5:48 pm

oh, so that’s how to plant it.

Carol - May Dreams Gardens January 6, 2013, 5:11 pm

Kathy, I must have better soil because I planted over 1,000 and I think it took me around 4 hours total…

Kathy Purdy January 6, 2013, 6:31 pm

Oh, I know you have better soil. 1)You live in a prairie state. I don’t believe prairies naturally have rocky soil. 2)You brought in top soil to your garden before you even moved in. I would think you’d been sorely cheated if your soil was as bad as mine.

Jason January 6, 2013, 11:22 am

Good job! I haven’t tried crocus in the lawn. In new beds, I tend to dig holes about 1′ in diameter and then just throw in handfuls of corms. My thinking is they should be about as crowded as a commuter train at 3 pm but not as crowded as 5 pm.

Kathy Purdy January 6, 2013, 11:42 am

I know gardeners who do the dig a big hole and throw a bunch of bulbs in, and it works for them. But since one of my goals was to disturb the tree roots as little as possible, I didn’t want to use that technique here. I like your rule of thumb re: commuter trains!

Donna@Gardens Eye View January 6, 2013, 8:02 am

Holy smokes Kathy…thankfully I have few rocks just the hard clay…I used and broke my dandelion weeder hacking through it for 500 crocus…looking forward to see what yr 2 brings as yr 1 was OK. I planted them loosely and in groups of 25-30…if I plant more I know to do them tighter now..thanks

antjon January 6, 2013, 3:55 am

Hi Kathy this is some project you have taken on, I did a simular project with crocuses in the lawn but with only a quarter of corms you are using, the ground was hard but by the sound of it not as bad as yours, I used the serrated edge planter tool which gave you blisters on your hands but it worked ok for me, keep up the good work your sheer determination will see it through