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By Craig Cramer
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  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
  • Plants
  • Horticulture
  • Nature

All around Ithaca, long swaths of flower bulbs are popping up through the still-dormant grass to provide some extra early-season color, thanks to Bill Miller and his Cornell Flower Bulb Research Program team. Miller is a professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science’s Horticulture Section, part of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Every fall since 2017, Miller and his team wheel out their tractor-drawn bulb planter imported from the Netherlands, which can plant thousands of bulbs in minutes. They pour bulbs by the bucketful into the hopper, including daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, crocuses, scilla, muscari, alliums and chionodoxa.  As it’s towed across the grass, the planter slices open the sod, lifts it and drops in the bulbs. Then it firms the sod back over top of them.

In these “naturalized” plantings, the early bulbs push up through the turf in spring, and bloom before the grass begins to grow. “This planter greatly reduces the labor required to establish naturalized bulb plantings,” says Miller. “Some people might be concerned about the lack of precise placement of the bulbs. But most bulbs are forgiving about how deep they are planted and do fine if not planted right side up.”

Miller hopes that planters like this one might catch on with commercial landscapers and municipalities and result in more naturalized bulb plantings.  A benefit of this approach can be less mowing of turf areas due to the need to let the bulb foliage die back naturally.  In such areas, landscapers could substantially reduce carbon emissions from spring mowing, leading to a more sustainable landscape, Miller says.

The Ithaca Garden Club donated bulbs for two of the plantings Miller and his team installed last fall in Stewart Park and north of the Ithaca Children’s Garden along the pathway on the west side of Route 89.

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Cass Park

Along the path north of Ithaca Children's Garden.  Established in fall 2020 with bulbs donated by the Ithaca Garden Club. (April 4, 2021)

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

South of Ithaca Children's Garden

In this planting established in fall 2020, Bill Miller, director of Cornell's Flower Bulb Research Program, included test plots to see which bulbs perform best in these naturalized plantings. (April 4, 2021)

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Stewart Park

Near the entrance to Stewart Park just past the railroad tracks.  Established in fall 2020 with bulbs donated by the Ithaca Garden Club. (April 4, 2021)

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Newman Golf Course

Along Pier Road and the walking path south of the golf course. A long strip with mixed planting of daffodils, crocus, scilla, muscari, and alliums. (April 4, 2021)

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Cornell Botanic Garden

Planting along the edge of the bioswale near the Nevin Center parking lot off Arboretum Road. Mixed bulbs from crocus to allium.(April 4, 2021).

Additional naturalized plantings at Cornell Botanic Gardens:

Newmann Arboretum. From Caldwell Road, turn into the arboretum, park in area to the left. Planting is a double row going up the rise into the meadow. Allium and Nectaroscordum bulbs flower in June, attracting an amazing density of bees and other pollinators).

A strip in front of the McClintock Shed on Arboretum Road includes later-flowering Camassia

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Cornell Botanic Garden (mid-season)

Daffodils will dominate the same plantng along the bioswale in late April.

Bulb plantings around Ithaca

Cornell Botanic Gardens (late season)

In late May, Alliums flower in the swale planting.

A sweep of early-season flower bulbs sprout from the lawn adjacent to a park walkway
bulb test plots south of Ithaca Children's Garden
Close-up of early-season bulbs near the entrance to Stewart Park
bulb strip between path and road south of the golf course
early-season planting along bioswale at Cornell Botanic Garden
bioswale later in the season when daffodils dominate
purple allliums flowering in planting along the bioswale

Naturalized bulb plantings around Ithaca include:

  • Along the bioswale adjacent to the Nevin Center parking lot at Cornell Botanic Gardens.
  • Along Arboretum Road adjacent to the Pounder Heritage Vegetable Garden at Cornell Botanic Gardens.
  • Several smaller plantings in the Newman Arboretum at Cornell Botanic Gardens. From Caldwell Road, turn into the arboretum, park in area to the left.  Planting is a double row going up the rise into the meadow with allium and Nectaroscordum bulbs flowering later in the season.
  • Along the north side of Route 366 between Guterman Greenhouses and Triticum Drive. Mixed planting of tulips, daffodils, crocus and others.
  • Along the south edge of Route 366 west of Game Farm Road near the New York State Seed Improvement Program barn.
  • Along Taughannock Boulevard east of the Ithaca Children’s Garden.
  • Along the path north of the Ithaca Children’s Garden west of Route 89.
  • Along Pier Road adjacent to Newman Golf Course.

Miller has also spearheaded numerous plantings on Long Island, including at:            

  • Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead.
  • Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River, Suffolk County.
  • Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Nassau County.

Plans are underway for additional plantings along the inlet from Cass Park south to the bridge.

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