Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019: Plant pollinator-friendly spring bulbs!

October 04, 2019

Spring crocus. Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension

Are you thinking of planting some spring bulbs this fall? You might think about planting several kinds of bulbs which attract pollinators. These early flowering bulbs are sometimes the only flowers out in early spring and provide critical food for pollinators--particularly honeybees.

What spring bulbs are best? Here are the latest results of a new study.

Plant survival & pollinator attraction

This new study out of the University of Arkansas primarily looked into how long these spring bulbs lasted over a three-year period when planted in several different kinds of lawn grass.  But it also studied the number of pollinators attracted to these bulbs.

Researchers found that fewer spring bulbs survived when they were planted in turf made up of bermuda grass (too much plant competition).  But they did better and lasted longer when they were planted in buffalograss (see Table 1).

So let's translate these results for all of us who garden in Minnesota:  While neither of these grass species are common in our home lawns, Kentucky bluegrass might provide similar conditions to bermuda grass and fine fescues may show competitiveness similar to buffalograss. So in other words, if you like to plant your bulbs in the grass? They're going to do better planted in a lawn made up of  fine fescues.

As for the number of pollinators? Several bulbs, primarily crocuses and grape hyacinth, were observed to attract pollinating insects, principally honeybees. See the varieties rated the highest in the table below:


TABLE 1. Bulb survival over three years in Arkansas

[25 bulbs of each kind were planted in fall 2016.]

Percentage of top 5 bulbs persisting in bermuda grass lawn over three years.

                                                                          2016      2017         2018
Narcissus spp. ‘Baby Moon’               89          39             89
Crocus flavus ‘Golden Yellow’                        99          57             65
Crocus tommasinianus ’Ruby Giant’       40          49             57
Crocus vernus ‘Flower Record’                       37          28             49
Leucojum aestivum                       88          80             47

Percentage of top 5 bulbs persisting in a buffalograss lawn over three years: 

                                                                          2016       2017          2018
Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’                       99           96            100
Crocus flavus ‘Golden Yellow’               80           85              77
Narcissus ‘Rijnveld's Early Sensation’       48           52              72
Muscari aucheri ’Mount Hood’                       92           77               69
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’               87            81               67


TABLE 2. Bulbs rated highest for number of pollinator visits:

Crocus flavus ‘Golden Yellow
Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’
Muscari armeniacum
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’



Look for these bulbs at garden centers and to find the exact cultivars, look in mail order bulb catalogs such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and John Scheepers
Plant bulbs at the proper depth according to the package directions and try to plant several weeks before the ground freezes so bulbs can develop roots in the fall.  Happy planting! 
Please note: Michelle M. Wisdom and her colleagues (Michael D. Richardson.Douglas E. Karcher, Donald C. Steinkraus and Garry V. McDonald) at the University of Arkansas will be publishing this information in HortScience, an online journal sometime in the near future.
Author: Mary H. Meyer, Professor and Extension Horticulturist

The Drummer and The Wright County Journal Press

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108 Central Ave.
Buffalo MN 55313

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