Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why I do bulbs in pots


You may think that I rely on bulb forcing and bulbs in containers just because I have a small space. Not at all. I could easily plant plenty of bulbs in my sunny or part-sunny beds. But over the years I’ve learned a few things about bulbs that make containers a preferable option in many cases. I still do plenty of tulips in the ground, but I do equally as many in pots, because:

1. Hybrid tulips do not return reliably except in ideal conditions: full sun and excellent drainage. I could never expect to plant them and have them come back for more than a year or maybe two.
2. Hyacinths return (for a while) but they tend to look stubby and artificial in a the ground (before they tip over, that is). The hyacinthoides hispanica do much better in a naturalizing situation. I think the old-fashioned charm of true hyacinths is best appreciated indoors. Back in the day, ambitious indoor gardeners forced hundreds of hyacinths every winter.
3. There are so many wonderful cultivars in the bulb world; containers allow me to grow different types every year. This year I am experimenting with 3 doubles in containers: the Orange Princess, Black Hero, and Yellow Mountain.
4. The big containers of tulips can be moved around for decorative purposes.
5. Bulbs are fun. Using containers allows me to have more fun with them.


For forcing, the hyacinths and tulips need to be placed near the top of the pot, with a thin layer of dirt on top, and they should be tightly packed, as shown above and below. They will need 8-12 weeks in a cool, dark, but not freezing room (40-50 degrees). When they come out, they should still be in a darker room for a week or so, and then moved near a sunny window. This year I am forcing Negrita and Amazone triumph tulips, and Carnegie, Raphael, and Isabelle hyacinths.



For containers that are to be stored in an unheated garage (above and below), the bulbs should act just as they would in the ground and be planted that way, about 6 inches down. In April the pots can come out. A thorough watering before they go in the garage and again when they come out should be enough.


Questions about forcing and container bulbs? Ask in comments. I’ve been doing it for some years, and might be able to help. Or not!

16 comments:

Kathy said...

Do you have any problem with rodents getting into the bulbs? I tried forcing in my basement one year and something got into them and had lunch!

EAL said...

Once that happened in the root cellar, but we found the holes and plugged them. Whatever it was only nibbled; it didn't seem too interested in them!

Ever since, A has been vigilant about putting rocks where he thinks they might get in.

Carol said...

Have you ever tried to let the foliage die back completely, as it would in the ground, and then try to re-force the same bulb?

People seem aghast that after I force hyacinths to bloom using vases, I toss them onto the compost bin. I suppose I could attempt to plant them out into the garden, but I don't that they would do much the next year.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You make this all sound so easy EAL. I might give it a go.

EAL said...

What I've heard, Carol, is that you can plant the forced bulb and it will come back and bloom 2 seasons later. I do not think you can reforce though. Apparently that is a very high-energy process.

Layanee said...

You are the Queen of Bulbs! I did pot some up and your post reminded me that I have two good sized containers that will look great with bulbs planted in them. Thanks!

Gail said...

Since I garden in zone 7, I am wondering if I can pot them up and leave the containers in my leaf pile! No garage or basement so I get creative about using leaves to insulate. I would love to be able to set a container of blooming tulips in the garden without the decaying leaves hanging around for months in the beds!!

Gail

EAL said...

Gail, the thing with pots is the soil in them can't freeze and thaw--it will break the pot. So as long as that won't happen and you protect them from animals (should be easy enough--a barrier of some sort on top), I think you could keep them outside. Why not put the leaves in bags so they retain their shape? A pile might blow away or flatten when rained on.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

There's one more advantage to planting Tulip bulbs in pots: no sore wrists from trying to dig a really deep hole. Congratulations on potting up those bulbs. There sure were a lot of them.

Anne said...

Those pots look great EAL! Out here, we've used Colourblends company - any other suggestions on sources?

Linnea said...

Looks great! Wonderful idea.

Sabine said...

Greetings from Europe! I love bulbs, too. Living in The Netherlands, I am lucky to have the famous "Keukenhof" - which is blooming with thousands of bulbs every spring- just around the corner. I am happy I found your blog and I'll come back. Maybe you want to have a look at my garden photos at http://www.gardenphotos.biz which is of course showing some photos of Keukenhof ? Or even add them to your linklist?
Cheers from the Netherlands,
Sabine

Rosella said...

Great information about bulbs--thanks, Elizabeth! I have a little book which says that you can successfully force bulbs if you don't have a refrigerator or cool indoor place by using a large cardboard box. Put a layer of leaves on the bottom of box, put your potted bulbs on the layer, then fill box with leaves, pack them well around and on top of pot, close, and leave somewhere protected from rain/snow. I haven't done it that way, but it might be worth giving it a try. But, I think EAL's suggestion of using a plastic bag filled with leaves is an even better idea, because it won't get soggy if it gets wet.

My hyacinths and miniature daffodils are potted up and are now in the little refrigerator in the basement that we use for big parties, refrigerator emergencies, etc.

EAL said...

Rosella, many, including Carol, just keep the hyacinths in the fridge in a bag and then pot them when they are chilled.
Anne, I have ordered ffrom Colorblends and I think they're great, except they do not give accurate cultivar names. I like John Scheepers, Brent&Beckys, and Old House Gardens. I think I have links to all on my sidebar someplace.

Lynn said...

Thanks for all the great info, EAL. Question: you mention putting planted pots in an unheated garage (in our case, a shed), but it will definitely freeze in there--Finger Lakes area. Will a terra cotta pot not break if it stays dry? I'd like to try it. I'm thinking that the critters who always find their way into our basement will definitely eat anything I store inside.

bert said...

I live in zone 5 (Lake Erie)and while I plant lots of bulbs in the ground I would like to plant tulips in large pots (not ceramic) now for early spring bloom outside. My garage is attached but not heated and the temp there does not go below freezing. Do I put the pots in the garage where the temp never freezes?Do I put the pots outside? In ground bulbs freeze so is OK for potted bulbs?