When I plant containers of bulbs in the fall, I’m thinking of the color and drama they will add to the following spring’s landscape. Not only will these planted pots create focal points throughout the garden, but they will also welcome visitors at entryways and add a touch of bright color to the spring garden.
Any bulb can be planted in a container, but tulips are by far my favorite because of their simple form and the infinite choice of colors. You can combine different types of bulbs in a single tall ceramic pot, but be sure they bloom at the same time or the earlier bulb’s dying foliage will mar the display of the later-flowering bulb. I prefer to plant only one type of bulb per container to get the maximum impact. By choosing bulbs with staggered bloom times we have a succession of flowers from early March through mid-May.
I plant our bulbs in late October in tall ceramic pots with good drainage. In a 24-inch container I plant either 50 tulips, 30 large-flowered daffodils, 50 small-flowered daffodils, or 100 minor bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, Scilla, or Iris species or cultivars. I fill the pot with a soil mix that drains very well so the bulbs will sit in moist but not soggy soil. I plant the bulbs just as I would in the ground, at a soil depth of twice the diameter of the bulb.
If I am planting more than one type of bulb in the same ceramic pot and they require different planting depths, I layer the bulbs (illustration at right). I fill the glazed ceramic pot to the right level and plant the larger bulbs, then cover them with soil until it’s at the proper depth to plant the smaller bulbs. Finally, I fill the container with soil, being sure to leave at least 1/2 inch of space between the surface of the soil and the top of the container for easy watering.
I water the planted container thoroughly, then water periodically throughout the winter. The bulbs should not sit in soil that is too wet, but you also don’t want them to dry out entirely.
To plant a ceramic pot with different species of bulbs, plant the larger bulbs first, then cover them with soil and plant the smaller bulbs. Fill the container with soil to just below the rim.
Gardening in Seattle makes overwintering bulbs in containers rather easy. I use mostly stoneware pots because they can be left outside through the winter. Our mild winters allow us to group the pots together tightly in our nursery and leave them outside for the season.
If your winter is just too severe to risk leaving the bulbs out or you want to use bulbs in a tall ceramic pot that can’t be stored in the cold, you have another option. Plant your bulbs in small 6-inch or 8-inch ceramic pots and overwinter them under protection outdoors or in a cold garage. In the spring, as they start to bloom, you can then sink the pots into larger display containers. Bring your tall ceramic pots outside in the spring when the danger of hard frost has passed or when the bulbs in the ground are starting to emerge.
After the flowers have faded and the spring gala is over, I plant all the bulbs except for the tulips in the garden. Tulips tend not to do well in subsequent years, so I compost them. Then I start thinking ahead to the varieties I’ll be planting up in the fall for next year’s display.