Autumn Gardening: Layer bulbs in pots for explosions of spring color
A splash of happiness on a cold spring day
Though you may well have plans to plant bulbs in your flower beds and lawn, think about putting some in pots too. They look stunning in bloom and can also cheer you up on a cold March day. In planters bulbs can be crowded in and layered and create displays that are more impressive than ones in the garden.
For me, the first of the year’s flowers always emerge from planters next to the front door. They never fail to put a smile on my face even though the days are still dark — they’re a reminder that warmer days are on the way. Early February can be a low point of the year and a bright display of flowers can make you feel more energetic and positive.
Plant bulbs in the autumn for spring displays
A springtime planter is one of the easiest gardening projects you can do. The ones I plant require next to no effort and can be relied upon to put on a good show each spring. In February delicate Snowdrops emerge, and then Crocus. In April and May tulips and Hyacinth bloom with an explosion of color and fragrance.
Plant a Spring Flowering Container
Most bulbs need to be planted in the Autumn and early winter so make sure to plan ahead. Source a variety of bulbs that will flower over an extended period. If flowers bloom at the same time, try to make sure that the colours work well together and to your taste. The packets of bulbs I bought contained between three and ten bulbs and was enough for several pots. They included:
- Mixed Daffodils — blooms February to April
- Red Riding Hood Tulips — bloom March to April
- Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) — blooms April to May
- Mixed Tulip Assortment — blooms April to May
You will also need…
- A pot around 1-1.5′ in diameter and 15″ deep. Ensure that it has drainage holes at the bottom.
- Free-draining compost. For the DIY version, mix one part Perlite with two parts compost.
- Broken pot shards, shale stone, or gravel for drainage
- Gravel for finishing the top
Fill the pot with your drainage materials
1Start by filling the bottom of your pot with broken pots or about an inch of gravel. This layer will help keep the soil above it in place and well drained. In other words it helps keeps your bulbs from drowning in the pot and the planting material from running out of the drainage hole.
Plant the deepest bulbs
Add a layer of compost over the drainage materials about three inches deep. Next layer on the largest bulbs that need the deepest planting space — the bulb packet will tell you just how deep they should be. Space them out, no bulbs should be touching, and remember that the pointy ends of the bulbs are the tops. Sometimes your bulbs will already be sprouting and that will let you know how to place them.
After they’re laid out how you like, cover the bulbs with another layer of compost. The compost can just cover the tops but how deep you cover them is dependent on how deep the next layer of bulbs should be in the pot. Refer to your own bulbs for guidance on how deep this layer should be.
Plant the second level of bulbs
Next layer on the second largest sized bulbs and try to space them out so that they don’t sit on top of the bulbs below. You can see in the photo above that a couple of the hyacinth bulbs from underneath are just peeking through the compost.
When your second layer of bulbs are spaced out, cover them with another layer of compost and then add a third layer of bulbs. You could even add a forth and fifth layer if you wish!
Protect your pot’s soil with a layer of grit
Finish the top of the container with a layer of fine gravel or grit about 1/4″ to 1/2″ in depth. This last layer serves several purposes: it keeps the container from drying out, it helps keep soil from eroding out, it stops weeds from taking root, and it also looks nice. The bulbs below will be able to push their way through without any issue at all.
When you’re layering the grit or gravel on top, make sure to leave around 1/2″ of space between it and the top of the pot.
Now for the waiting game
For the summer and winter months your container will look fairly barren and I’ll sometimes move it to a place that’s out of sight. If you live in a place with cold and snowy winters then consider placing it in a greenhouse or polytunnel during the winter.
In late January I bring the container out and set it by my front door. It’s such a delight to see the first succulent green leaves popping through the stones! A sure sign that spring is on its way.
How to care for your bulbs
During the time that your plants are green and growing make sure to keep the compost moist by watering it every day. As the parade of flowers bloom try not to cut the leaves of the plants that are starting to die off. The leaves need to soak up as much sun-energy as possible so that next year’s display is just as beautiful.
In late spring your display will die off completely and it’s then that you can gently pull the brown leaves out. Set the pot somewhere until autumn when you should empty, organize, and replant the bulbs.
Ideally you should empty your containers every year. Since they’re growing in such an enclosed space they’ll need new compost and also some separating — many bulbs will grow larger or even make babies which means even more flowers for next year.
Also note that some bulbs might not survive the winter, especially in very cold climates — these include Dahlias and Calla Lilies. You can lift and store these after their leaves have browned and then replant them again in the spring. Alternatively, you can move your container into a greenhouse over winter. Check the bulbs you’re using and think of your own climate.
Image Credit: Tulips in pots by Stephen Bowler