So you love tulips, daffodils, hyacinth…the list goes on. But maybe you live in a condo or apartment with only a balcony and no “yard” per say. Or perhaps you’re so in love with these spring blooming bulbs that you not only want them in your garden beds, but also in pots on either side of your front door! Is there a way to achieve this? It’s an age-old question…Can fall planted (spring blooming) bulbs be grown in containers? The answer is most definitely yes! However, you’ll have to keep these careful points in mind when doing so:
- Bulbs planted in containers need good drainage. Just like when planting in a garden bed, good soil drainage is key. If at all possible, choose a planter that has drainage holes (or punch your own). If you’re set on using a container where this is not possible, add 2-3″ of rocks and gravel to the bottom to allow excess water to sit aside from the soil. Also, be sure and use a proper potting soil mix with good nutrients and a low or non-existent clay content and lots of peatmoss.
- Bulbs planted in containers should be planted at the same depth as when planted in the ground. Just because a flower bulb is planted in a pot, does not mean that the depth requirements go out the window. On the contrary, planting say a tulip bulb at a depth of 6″ in a pot will insure that the bulb will grow to the proper height and will not become to tall and spindly to stand strong in the container.
- Bulbs planted in containers can and, in most cases, should be planted closer than when planted in the ground. Many times, the recommended spacing of a particular bulb is set to accommodate a more mature plant with a wider spread down the road. Since most bulbs planted in containers need to be replaced each year (I’ll explain this more below), this is not really a factor. Bulbs should still be given adequate room to spread roots without having to fight too hard for adequate amounts of water and nutrients but a space of 1-2″ between them, regardless of variety, should be plenty.
- Fall planted bulbs still require a “chilling period” when planted in a pot but should not be allowed to freeze too solid. This is one of the most important but also sometimes the most difficult point to understand. As you probably are already aware, most fall planted bulbs (tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, allium, etc.) require a cold period in order to bloom and grow correctly. Therefore, your container will need to be exposed to this period of cool temperatures (8-14 weeks of temperatures consistently below 55 degrees F) in order to properly chill the bulbs it contains. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not really. If you live in a zone 6 or lower, the frequent and sometimes constant freezing temperatures touches the soil within an exposed planter quite severely. When planted in the ground, a bulb will still most likely freeze in these areas, but not as hard as it will when in a container with sides open to the elements. Therefore, the trick is to figure out a way to a) allow the bulbs to still be chilled, but b) prevent the soil from freezing too solid, causing injury to the bulbs. If you do live in one of these areas where below freezing temperatures is the norm during the winter months, I recommend wrapping your entire container in an insulating material of sorts. This could be burlap (sold at garden centers for wrapping delicate plants), bubblewrap, or even an old quilt. Be sure to cover all exposed walls of the container as well as the top. Leave the container out in the elements on your porch, patio, or deck. If this creates too much of an eye-sore for you, you could also try moving the container into a cool garage or shed where the temperatures consistently stay below 55 degrees but do not often dip below freezing. Once the severe threat of frost is gone and the temperatures begin to warm up in the spring, begin to remove the protective covering or move the container back out of its storage area.
- Bulbs planted in containers often bloom a bit earlier than you would normally expect. Because of this somewhat “artificial chilling” process, most bulbs planted in pots will actually bloom a week or two earlier than the same ones planted in a garden bed. This is also due to the fact that the more exposed soil within the pots tends to warm up quite a bit faster than the soil in the ground.
- Be prepared to replace the bulbs planted within your container each year. Because of the slight “manipulation” (point #3 above) required to achieve proper growth and blooms, most bulbs will not last much longer than one season when grown in this way. This is not to say that you won’t have gorgeously beautiful blooms that first year; the process just tends to take quite a bit out of the bulbs, not leaving much for following springs.
- Start planning what annuals you’d like to use when the bulbs have finished blooming! One of the greatest things about growing fall planted bulbs in containers is that it will give you gorgeous color in your pots far earlier than annuals will be available. Once they have finished blooming, they can easily be removed just in time for you to plant your favorite annuals, all using the same planter!
So there you have it: the answer to the question I get asked probably at least 5 times per week 😉 And with good reason, too! Spring blooming bulbs are wonderful and now you can enjoy them even in your containers!
With hands in the (planter) dirt and head in the clouds,
P.S. Looking for a new container to give this a try? Check out one of my favorite places for sprucing up my outdoor living spaces here…they have some truly unique pottery perfect for growing spring blooming bulbs!