If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space to plant outdoor bulbs like Tulips, Daffs, Iris, or Hyacinths, don’t despair….Plant them in pots. Easy peasey. 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 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.
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 so that you have your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. This 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.
Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’ is one of the prettiest minor bulbs
Miniature Iris in a pot is also a favorite; this blue variety is a stunner-‘Katharine Hodgkin’
Another use for your bulbs in containers is to use them in mixed spring containers for an instant pop of color.
Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container-by Leigh Barnes
Creating an enclosed environment for your tiny packages of blooms is easy if you remember a few cardinal rules.
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); 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
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
Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots
There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens
Tulips are also easy in pots
Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose a good spot for your bulbs sheltered 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 until early spring growth appears is essential. For me it is an unheated mud room attached to my house once winter weather arrives.
I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house
I also wrap my pots in insulating bubble wrap and place them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth. 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.
Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs
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, gradually move the pots out into the partial sun and as they become acclimated into bright sun and Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.
Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers, from Longfield Gardens
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 so I tend to compost them.
Don’t hesitate to compost your used bulbs-There is no shame in that!
Step By Step
First layer covered with potting medium
Fill your deep container with a high-quality potting mix about 3-4 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 Siberian Squill. Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer first before placing more bulbs
Water your bulbs well after planting
Plant either pansies or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating help
Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 15″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run
Place all your bulbs close together; This is the top layer using minor bulbs like crocus, mini iris, and Scilla
Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation
Hyacinths in containers from Longfield Gardens
Tulip bulbs planted very close together
The sources of bulbs for this post were Longfield Gardens, Brent and Becky’s, and Old House Gardens.