Plant bulbs in pots or containers for a gorgeous spring display in your garden, on your patio or back deck! It is easy and you get early blooms to enjoy before the rest of your garden wakes up.
Planting bulbs in pots is a great way to add Spring flowers to your garden. And do you want to know the bonus?
Planting your Spring bulbs in pots is it protects them from being eaten by gophers and voles!
Can you plant bulbs in pots?
I get asked that question a lot. And the answer is yes, you can plant any bulbs in containers and pots.
I must or else the underground critters eat my bulbs, even all my beautiful alliums. The only exception is daffodils, so far they have left those alone.
And that answers the another question I get…
Why plant bulbs in containers and pots?
The first one is as mentioned, I have a terrible gopher and vole problem right now and they have eaten my hundreds of red tulips I had lining my gardens…
they were gorgeous in Spring and being a perennial tulip they came back thicker each year. Now they are gone! All of them eaten by gophers and voles. They have also eaten all my Lilies, Alliums, Hyacinths and Dutch Iris!
Another good reason to plant bulbs in containers is you can move them as you need. (if they are in smaller containers) They can bring a spot of Spring color to your porch, patio or deck. Temporarily fill in a blank spot in the garden then swap out the container of bulbs when they are done blooming.
When to plant bulbs in pots.
Plant bulbs in pots or containers the same time you would put them in the ground. That can depend upon your local climate.
I live in Zone 8a and it can stay very mild up into November or we can be buried in snow by then, it changes. My method is I wait until the nights are in the 30’s so it will keep the bulbs dormant until it warms up in the Spring.
If I planted mine earlier then we could get a premature sprouting and that can lead to many problems.
If I buy bulbs earlier (many places start selling bulbs in late Summer/early Autumn) I just pop them in the refrigerator to keep them chilled until time to plant.
Most fall-planted bulbs, including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus, need to be chilled for 8 to 12 weeks before they will produce fully-formed flowers. If it is cold enough this chilling period can be done outside, the soil temperature should be at 35 to 45°F; consistently cold, but above freezing. Though daffodils will tolerate being frozen for short periods of time, tulips, hyacinths and most other bulbs will not.
Pots and Container options for bulb planting
Just about any type of container or pot will work as long as there’s a good drainage holes in the bottom and enough room for the bulbs.
Terracotta pots always look good with spring bulbs. Plain old nursery pots also work well and if you want to dress them up just paint the pots or pop them into a more decorative container (making sure it has drainage too).
How to plant bulbs in containers
This is important so I am saying it again…Start by making sure you have plenty of drainage in your pot or containers. Bulbs will rot if sitting in water.
With the galvanized tubs I drilled plenty of holes making sure they are small enough that the voles or gophers cannot squeeze through them.
Bulbs will do best in well draining potting soil. Many good brands do drain well or you can add amendments to improve it.
I use my DIY mix with some added rough sand and/or rice hulls. See my DIY potting mix article for how to make it. (it is cheaper and easier to fill many containers than lots of plastic bags)
Fill potting soil to desired depth. This depends upon the size of your container and how deep you are planting your bulbs.
Planting the bulbs
You can follow the directions on the packaging for planting the bulbs but you can also do things a bit differently if you prefer.
Are you going to layer bulbs? Layering involves planting different bulbs together to bloom over a longer period of time.
I have a video here where I show how I layered bulbs in a pot last year. Layering bulbs for a fun filled container.
But if you are going for a thick display of one variety then you can plant your tulips or other bulbs more closely together and a little shallower than recommended on the package. Just make sure you have at least 2 inches of soil depth for the roots.
You will typically have more than 2 inches but that is the shallowest soil you can have for bulbs.
Cover the bulbs with your planting mix. Planting the bulbs to the depth recommended on the package helps the stems be sturdier but you can plant them shallower when in pots and containers.
Plant on top
Where I live I can leave my containers outside all winter long. So instead of just looking at dirt I plant some Pansies or Violas on top to enjoy before the bulbs begin to peek out.
And that leads me to overwintering your containers….
Overwintering bulbs in pots
Finding a good place to keep the containers during the winter months can be the trickiest part of the process. The bulbs need to be cold, but should not freeze solid.
Daffodils and some of the smaller bulbs can tolerate being frozen for a brief time, but hyacinths and tulips typically won’t.
In zones 3 – 6, you may be able to insulate the containers by putting them in a cold frame, placing them up against your home and wrapping with burlap, burying them or wrapping them with bubble wrap. (terra cotta pots will crack and break so this only applies to plastic or metal)
I admit to not ever living in zones under 6 so if you have any words of wisdom for pots and containers with bulbs please do share!
Containers filled with bulbs can also be stored in an unheated garage or basement as long as it’s warm enough to keep the soil from freezing.
In growing zones 7 and 8, you should be able to simply leave the containers outdoors. But be aware that if your winters are very wet, the pots may need to be covered to keep the soil from getting overly soggy. (or like at my house I get late heavy snows and need to protect mine from being smashed)
If you live in growing zones 9-10, outdoor temperatures it helps to pre-chill your bulbs in the fridge as I spoke about before planting. When I lived in the San Joaquin Valley, zone 9, my bulbs came up in February and March. If you wish them to come up later you will need to keep the containers chilled somehow. I didn’t bother, I love having flowers in late winter.
Plant bulbs in raised beds
This is another option I am testing this year to protect my bulbs from being eaten. Raised beds with hardware cloth lining the bottom!
The raised beds in the vegetable garden that I lined with hardware cloth worked great at keeping my plants from being eaten by the gophers and voles. So this year I am putting in more for my bulbs and tubers.
I planted some in half wine barrels. I have another post coming of transplanting climbing roses into containers and I share how I put bulbs in with the roses. That is coming soon!
So don’t be afraid to plant bulbs in pots and containers. Even the humblest of pots can be beautiful filled with flowering bulbs in Spring.