Plant Drifts of Colorful Bulbs

R. L. Rhodes
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drifts of hyacinths and tulips

Maybe you’ve already experimented with bulbs, planting a few here or there to add a point of color to your landscape or garden. You may have even planted a neat row to line a hedge or walkway. Yet one of the most striking uses for bulbs is also one of the least orderly.

A “drift” of bulbs is a planting style that mimics the haphazard growth patterns of large groups of flowers in nature. The idea is to mix with the landscape so that the vibrant blooms stretch across your yard in the glory days of early spring.

The chaos here requires some method. Planting in drifts is relatively easy, but achieving the desired aesthetic effect requires a little planning. Follow the steps outlined below, and you may find a surprise waiting for you on the other end of winter.

Skill level

  • Easy

Time required

  • About 1 hour per drift

Materials & Tools

Directions

Step One: Plan Your Drifts

While the intent is to make drifts that look like natural outcroppings of flowers, going at it willy-nilly is likely to create problems for your landscape. Best to start out with a plan. Try drawing out a few shapes and see what you like. Don’t plot the location of each bulb; just concentrate on the area covered by each drift. For a natural effect, drifts should be long, thin ovals, tapering at either end.

Be sure to avoid high- and moderate-traffic areas in your landscape. It’s easy to let a drift get away from you, overlapping into an area where children and pets like to play, but for the good of your plants, keep it reigned in.

Most bulbs bloom early in the season. That quality makes them perfect for planting under the canopies of deciduous trees. The shade of a tree in full foliage might dampen the brightness of other flowers, but by the time most trees have filled in with leaves, your bulbs will generally have finished their blooms for the year.

Step Two: Gather Your Bulbs

When planting in drifts, don’t skimp on the bulbs. The aesthetic effect depends on density. Plant too few bulbs, or plant them in large but diffuse drifts, and the appearance of unity will fall altogether flat.

Bulbs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, a diversity that can be used to advantage. Bear that variety in mind when planning your drifts. Planting your bulbs in combination will open up an array of creative options.

The simplest is to plant multiple parallel drifts, each focusing on a single style of bulb so that your landscape achieves a tiered effect, as in the picture above. But you might also try picking two complementary bulbs and planting them together in the same drift.

Another facet to keep in mind is time. Some bulbs bloom later than others. By planting late and early bloomers together, you can keep your landscape in color longer with brilliant transitions from hue to hue.

Step Three: Layout the Plot

One you have all of your materials together, it’s time to place the bulbs. Start by transferring your design onto the ground. Using string, rope or a length of hose, mark off the outline of each plot that you planned in step one.

Now for a bit of child’s play. Stand at one end of your plot and gently cast the bulbs in. In principle, where they land is where you should plant them, though you’re free, of course, to call a do-over. Some measure of disorder is desirable, since that’s how you achieve the natural look. Any bulbs that drop or roll outside the boundary should be brought back into the plot.

Step Four: Plant!

Once you’ve achieved a natural-looking arrangement, it’s time to plant each bulb where it lays. See our article on how to plant spring bulbs for tips, handling and best practices.

For beautiful additions to your landscape, drift into your local Home Depot and check out the selection of bulbs in the Garden Center.

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