Perennializing vs. Naturalizing:
What’s the Difference?

Perennializing vs. Naturalizing: What’s the Difference? –
naturalized Siberian squill (by Larry Hodgson, Laidback Gardener)

Although the words “naturalize” and “perennialize” are often used interchangeably, their meanings aren’t exactly the same – and it can make a big difference in the garden.

“Perennialize” means the bulbs will behave like perennials, coming back year after year and multiplying under-ground. “Naturalize,” on the other hand, means the bulbs will also multiply by seed, with little or no care, and as a result they usually spread further and faster.

Dutchman’s breeches

“The experience of one of my neighbors with Siberian squill helped me understand the difference,” wrote Karen Bussolini in the September 2013 issue of The American Gardener.

“For many years, the neighbor divided and replanted clumps of the tiny bulbs in the lawn, trying to create a blooming blue spring carpet. They spread slowly, producing a mass more akin to a bath mat than a carpet, despite having everything they needed – winter cold, good drainage, and dry conditions during dormancy.

“It turns out,” she concluded, “that what they lacked in order to naturalize was enough time for the seed to ripen. Once the family began mowing the lawn later in the season, they seeded abundantly.”

Grecian windflower

Almost any bulb can set seed, but here are the heirlooms we offer that will naturalize most readily – if they’re in the right spot with the right conditions: tommies (Crocus tommasiniaus), ‘Roseus’ crocus, Roman hyacinths, ‘Early Louisiana’ jonquil, coral lily, tiger lily (by stem bulblets rather than by seeds), rain lilies, and a whole slew of our fall-planted diverse bulbs: purple-headed garlic, Grecian windflower, Turkish glory-of-the-snow, Dutchman’s breeches, winter aconite, antique freesia, snake’s-head fritillary, snowdrops, Spanish bluebell, Southern grape hyacinth, silver bells, Siberian squill, and sternbergia.

If you’ve had success with other heirloom bulbs naturalizing happily by seed in your garden, please let us know and we’ll share the good news here with our readers.