Tips on Growing Bulbs in Containers

It's time to start thinking about preparing your bulbs for a beautiful spring garden. Spring-flowering bulbs require a minimum 15 weeks of cold weather in order to bloom, so plant them in a container by October to ensure they get the chill they need.

Credit: Brand X Pictures/Home and Garden/Alison Miksch

Plant spring-flowering bulbs in a container by October to ensure they get the chill they need

Spring-flowering bulbs are temperature sensitive and require a minimum 15 weeks of cold weather in order to bloom. Make sure they get the requisite exposure to cold, however, they should not be allowed to freeze. Plant them in a container by October to ensure they get the chill they need. Container-planted bulbs can be planted closer to each other than they would otherwise be planted in the ground. The bulbs can touch each other, but should not touch the sides of your container. Keep freshly planted containers sheltered from wind and extremes of temperature, and keep them watered. During extreme cold, they should be moved to an unheated garage or shed. Heavy pots can be wrapped in burlap. As spring approaches, place the containers in the sun.

Small early season bulbs are superbly suited to container growing, especially on the B.C. coast.

Place a layer of gravel on the bottom of a clay, pottery or cement container, then fill part way with a sandy (even stony) soil mix. In the fall, plant dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) and a few early snowdrop bulbs (Galanthus elwesii) about 7.5 to 10 cm (3 to 4″) below the surface. Place the pot outside during the late fall and early winter, then move it to a sunny spot outdoors in early January. The reward will be a blue, white and yellow mid-winter display. Once the bloom is over, fertilize the greenery with a few drops of diluted fish fertilizer, set the container aside in a dry, partly shaded spot and leave until next mid-winter for another blast of bloom. Botanical crocuses, now available in a wide array of colours, also make wonderful container bulbs. —Richard Hebda

For a spectacular spring container display use the “double decker” planting technique. Plant a layer of tall-growing bulbs, such as tulips, 20 cm (8″) deep in the container. Cover with 7.5 cm (3″) of soil, then plant a layer of low-growing bulbs, such as grape hyacinths, and cover with another 12.5 cm (5″) of soil and water well. (The planting depth for bulbs is generally three times their diameter.)

Great spring flowers for containers include:

  • Anemone blanda -Greek windflower
  • Chionodoxa -glory of the snow
  • Crocus -all crocus species and Dutch crocus cultivars
  • Galanthus -snowdrop
  • Hyacinthus -hyacinth, all cultivars
  • Iris -miniature iris, I. danfordiae and I. reticulata hybrids
  • Leucojum snowflake
  • Muscari -grape hyacinth, especially M. armeniacum and M. botryoides album
  • Narcissus -daffodil, including strong-stemmed taller cultivars and especially, shorter-stemmed and miniature varieties
  • Puschkinia, P. libanotica
  • Scilla siberica (early), S. campanulata [or Hyacinthoides hispanica] (late)

For instant container colour, purchase potted bulbs in spring and pop them into your containers! This gives you the advantage of seeing how they will combine with existing spring plantings, rather than having to imagine how they will look if you are planting in the fall.