The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are moderating with some chilly nights. What does that mean?? Bulb time!!!
Planting bulbs around my house is a process. I add to my collection in the ground every year and also pot up containers with bulbs to strategically place around my yard for pops of color. This year, I am holding off on planting in the ground as we are in a drought here in the mid-Atlantic and the ground is hard as cement. Containers are the way to go right now and I am getting everything lined up.
Bulbs in Containers
So much better to plop your bulbs in nice loose potting medium rather than slaving with a heavy shovel to get your bulbs down to the proper depth in a heavy dry clay soil. Frustrating? You bet! But in containers, think of the advantages:
- You can enjoy your bulbs up close and personal
- Change the look and appearance of your garden instantly
- Grow bulbs that require specialized TLC
- Pop them into containers with other spring flowers
- Experiment with new varieties. Plus, you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your patio for weeks in the spring when you become starved for color and fragrance
- You can have tulips without the deer eating them! Place your pots close to the house, like on your porch where the deer won’t venture.
Outdoors For Spring Bloom Vs Forcing
Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. I am not talking about “forcing” bulbs which means to accelerate your bloom period. In that scenario, your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. That method requires pre-chilling to get the required days of cold that each bulb needs. I didn’t want to fool with forcing this year. So, I decided to enjoy my bulbs in containers by my back door without fiddling with burying the pots and/or chilling bulbs that forcing requires. Go to Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs for more information on pre-chilling and forcing if you want winter color indoors.
Potting Bulbs Made Easy
- Potting Medium-Use a high quality potting medium with lots of perlite or vermiculite for porous well draining soil (not garden soil)
- Pots-Use flexible plastic pots that give with the changes of temperature (terra-cotta can break if not insulated with bubble wrap); You can slip these into decorative pots when they bloom
- Spacing-Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. Here is your chance to stuff them in for a huge color show
- Depth-Pot bulbs are typically planted a little less shallowly than ground bulbs. But try to stick closely to recommended planting depths for best results. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth
- Layers-For a more abundant lavish look, you can layer your bulbs or stack them on top of each other but it is simpler to stick with one variety per pot for beginners
- Temperature-In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground where the surrounding soil insulates. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as the outside. This last winter, my pots stayed outside in a sheltered spot and they bloomed beautifully.
- Water-Check your soil all winter to make sure soil is moist but not soggy. Water infrequently when just started, but later when roots have filled in and top growth has started, ramp it up
- Presentation-Place grit, gravel, or Spanish moss on top to finish it off or plant something shallow rooted on top, like moss
I keep my planted pots outside until the weather consistently gets below freezing. For me in the mid-Atlantic region, that could be as late as mid December, depending on the weather. Keeping my pots on my patio where I can easily throw some water on them, is the simplest way to monitor them. Once freezing temps are here to stay, I start bringing the pots in to a more sheltered position. This would be in a unheated garage or shed or cold frame.
Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose an area that is buffered from the killing freeze/thaw cycle, but still able to get the needed chilling for successful flowering. Keeping the pots in a cool shaded spot, like an unheated garage or cold frame, until early spring growth appears is essential.
Wrapping my pots in insulating bubble wrap and placing them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth is my solution for minimal protection. A cold frame would work also. I have heard of gardeners even storing the pots in old-fashioned galvanized trash cans with some burlap or other filler stuffed around them. Storing them in cans will avoid the great destructor of bulbs-squirrels, mice, voles and other assorted varmints.
Check on your pot while it is being stored. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. This will only happen every couple of weeks. Towards February, the tips of the bulbs will be pushing through the plants that you have planted on top.
If storing in a garage, be careful of ethylene gas emitted from exhaust fumes from warming-up cars. Ethylene gas can cause flower buds to abort and you end up with wonderful pots of foliage only. If you store in an old refrigerator, be aware of ripening nearby fruit for this reason as the ethylene gas of fruit can cause the same problem. Store the pots in impermeable plastic bags to avoid contamination.
Once top growth starts in the spring – pointy tips pushing through the soil- gradually move the pots out into the partial sun acclimating them to brighter sunlight necessary for good flower development. Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.
After Care-3 Ways
Compost the bulbs, leave in the pot/plant in the ground in the fall, or replant in the garden right after flowering and still green are the three ways to handle the spent bulbs. If you replant, be sure to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer as the bulbs have used all those nutrients up at their first burst of flowering. Most times, the flowers aren’t as spectacular as the first bloom using up all their energy, so I tend to compost them.
Step By Step for ‘Lasagna’ Pots
‘Lasagna’ pots just means layering your bulbs so that you have a 6-7 week display from one pot of different types of bulbs.
- Fill your deep container (at least 16″ deep)with a high-quality potting mix about 6-7 inches deep
- Plant your bulbs almost as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 3 or 4 inches deep for little bulbs such as Crocus and Miniature Iris
- Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer completely before placing more bulbs
- For my layers, I planted the following from deepest to the most shallowly planted; 1st layer- 10 Daffodils, 2nd layer- 10 Hyacinths, 3rd layer-16 Tulips, 4th and last layer- 50 assorted small bulbs (I used 20 Grape Hyacinth, 20 Crocus, and 10 Mini Iris)
- Water your bulbs well after planting
- Plant either pansies, moss, or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating help
- Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 18″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run
The sources of bulbs for this post is Longfield Gardens, my go-to source for bulbs.