How To Plant Spring Blooming Bulbs In A Pot

– Posted in: How-to
15 comments

I am always looking to cram more color into spring.

Longfield Gardens offers a combination of Mystic Van Eijk tulips and grape hyacinths

Longfield Gardens offers a combination of Mystic Van Eijk tulips and grape hyacinths

So when Longfield Gardens offered me the chance to try 25 Mystic Van Eijk tulips and 50 grape hyacinths, I was happy to take them up on it.

But we have a lot of voles and chipmunks around here, which love to eat tulips. We also have clay soil, and tulips tend to rot in it. I decided to plant them all in a 22-inch container. That way I had control over the soil texture, and, hopefully, control over who gets into the pot.

Ensure adequate drainage

It is extremely important to make sure your container has adequate drainage.

Make sure the drainage in your container is sufficient.

Make sure the drainage in your container is sufficient.

Last year I used a different container with only one hole and it held too much water and the tulips rotted. I actually had these holes enlarged from their original size. And of course then I worried that too much potting mix will come out of the holes, so I lined the inside of the pot with coffee filters.
Coffee filters prevent potting mix from slipping out

I don’t know if it’s necessary to put coffee filters over the holes, but it makes me feel better.

Then it was time to fill the container with potting mix. True confession: most of the potting mix is re-used from previous plantings. I use fresh mix just below the bulbs, where the roots will benefit from the plentiful nutrients. (Often I put an up-ended smaller pot to take up some space in the bottom, but this time I used old potting mix.) The instructions that Longfield Gardens included with the bulbs showed three different ways to plant the two kinds of bulbs. The other two patterns were better suited to a garden bed. I’m going to use this pattern:
Interplanting pattern for tulips and muscari

The smaller grape hyacinths will be interspersed among the larger tulips, and planted two inches above them.

When the directions say to plant bulbs six inches deep, did you ever wonder if you measure from the bottom of the hole or the top of the bulb? I know I did. Longfield makes this unambiguous:
tulip planting depth

No question about it: measure planting depth from the bottom of the hole.

After filling the pot about seven inches (six for the tulips and one to allow for watering) from the top with potting mix, I laid the tulips out as evenly spaced as I could manage.
The tulip bulbs are spaced evenly across the surface of the pot.

The tulip bulbs are spaced evenly across the surface of the pot.

Tip: The flat side of the tulip bulb produces a large leaf. Position the flat side toward the wall of the pot, so that this leaf will drape over the edge of the pot. The grape hyacinths (muscari) only need to be planted four inches deep. I use a trowel with inch markings to make sure I add two inches of potting mix.
Grape hyacinths need to be planted four inches below the soil surface.

Grape hyacinths need to be planted four inches below the soil surface.

After adding potting mix, the fifty grape hyacinth bulbs are arranged on the surface.

After adding potting mix, the fifty grape hyacinth bulbs are arranged on the surface.

The remainder of the potting mix is added, leaving room to water the container.

The remainder of the potting mix is added, leaving room to water the container.

Remember I said I had trouble with rodents? I had to think of a way to keep them from digging in the container. I thought about cutting a piece of chicken wire (also called poultry netting) to cover it, but decided to borrow my homemade wheelbarrow sifter for the winter.
A compost sifter doubles as rodent protection.

If this doesn’t keep the chipmunks out, I don’t know what will.

My abundant supply of rocks provided the means to keep the sifter in place.

It is said that any plant in a container should be two zones hardier than typical for the climate. Longfield Gardens says the grape hyacinths are hardy to zone 4. The tulips are supposed to be even hardier. We haven’t had temperatures go any lower than -10F in the last few winters, which is USDA Zone 6. I am gambling that they won’t go any lower this winter, but it is a gamble. I really don’t have any place to shelter this big container so that it remains below freezing but above 0F, so I am just crossing my fingers.

I just can’t wait to see those beautiful tulips blooming on my deck! As long as your potting soil isn’t frozen and you have an available container, you can still plant bulbs now for a gorgeous spring display. You might want to plant in the shelter of a garage or garden shed, or maybe you will get lucky and have a mild day in which to work. If your winters get even colder than mine, you will want to protect the planted container from the worst cold, and haul it out for display around mud season, so that it can acclimate to the outdoors and bloom on schedule.

Longfield Gardens provided the tulip and muscari bulbs for this tutorial. Thank you very much!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donna@GardensEyeView November 21, 2014, 8:25 pm

I replanted some tulips into a container and then I buried that container in another bigger tub and covered it with leaves and netting to keep out the rodents….I am hopeful in spring I can pull the container from the tub and have tulips, although I will have to keep them protected from deer in my garden.

Anna November 20, 2014, 4:22 pm

This is a great tutorial and very much making me want to put together a few pots and toss outside. I just purchased about 20 packs of bulbs on clearance for forcing in my home, which I love doing- but I may have bought too many and it may not be that risky to toss a few outside in pots.

I have chipmunks like crazy, but what’s worse around here are the ground hogs- they eat up bulbs so fast. So again, planting bulbs in containers like this might be my best option.

Thank you for another great post!

Dominic Villaseran November 20, 2014, 1:31 pm

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Kati B ~ FurnishMyWay November 18, 2014, 3:56 pm

Great tutorial. Hope they turn out! Though the weather can be unpredictable, I’m sure they will–you’re so prepared. Also, very nice job on your makeshift squirrel guard!

Teresa Marie November 18, 2014, 2:55 pm

Great idea with weighted down chicken wire to keep out the critters.

I worry that my containers will freeze and crack in wintertime so I’ve never tried this. May need some more resilient pots to give it a try.

Have a great day;

Teresa Marie
Terea’s Garden Song

Kathy Purdy November 18, 2014, 3:58 pm

Teresa, you bring up a very good point that I should have mentioned in my post. The container I am using is an inexpensive fiberglass one I bought at a warehouse store. It spent last winter out on my deck, still filled with potting soil, with no ill effects, so I didn’t hesitate to use it for this project. I would not advise using an expensive pot or any made of terra cotta. Water expands as it freezes and any material without “give” will crack from the pressure of that expansion.

Joanne Toft November 18, 2014, 12:15 pm

We are in deep winter here in Minnesota so this idea will need to wait until next fall for me. Thanks
I did plant a few in the ground and hope to have a bit of color from them next spring! Here is hoping they don’t get eaten first. I tried planting them with grit to discourage the critters.

Kathy Purdy November 18, 2014, 2:44 pm

Yes, in the time it took for me to get around to processing the photos and writing this post, it changed from fall to winter here, too. But–they are predicting weather in the 50s(F) next week! The beauty of planting in a big pot is you can do it in the garage out of the worst of the weather, as long as your potting soil is thawed out! So you can plant in containers later in the year than you can plant in the ground, perhaps taking advantage of a clearance sale. And who knows? Maybe a warm spell is coming your way as well.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern November 17, 2014, 11:55 am

This will be so wonderful in the Spring! I may end up doing this if I don’t see a break in the s*** since I still have some bulbs to plant. And why didn’t I think of this as a way to get around the rabbits eating tulips and crocus and whatever else they may come across? Love the tulip tip – thank you. I sure hope those munks don’t find a way in! It looks mighty secure.

Alison November 17, 2014, 11:42 am

It looks like you didn’t water the container after planting? Are you going to rely on snow melt in spring to water? Here in the PNW I think I’d have to water and then store it somewhere covered but outside (perhaps on my front porch) to keep the bulbs from drowning. Even with plenty of drainage holes in the pot.

Kathy Purdy November 17, 2014, 12:00 pm

Alison, most of the potting mix I used was quite moist. The last little bit came from a different bag that was dry. I didn’t water it because I knew it was going to rain, which it did. You may be right about the water. We mostly get snow during the winter and I expect the container to freeze, but it may be it will be too wet come spring. It is an experiment, and like Frank, I have had bulbs rot on me before. I am trying something different than the last time in the hopes of having more success.

Peter/Outlaw November 17, 2014, 10:15 am

Thanks for the great tutorial! I’ve only planted bulbs in the ground but have often thought that doing so in pots would be great as they could be stored out of sight where the foliage could ripen off once the flowers were gone. I never knew about the flat side of the tulip bulb producing a big leaf. Great information!

michaele anderson November 17, 2014, 8:59 am

Perfect timing on this advice…I have some tulips and blue muscari bulbs arriving in the next couple of days and I wanted to put some of them in a container. I like your squirrel guard.

Leslie November 17, 2014, 1:17 am

Thanks for the info about the long side of the bulb/ leaf. I never knew that!

Frank November 16, 2014, 10:36 pm

I’m still planning to do this, I just hope I don’t run out of time! My plan is to try a few tulips under different conditions and see which work best. In the past I’ve been left with bulb sprouts which looked promising but then rotted instead of blooming….
After this happens a few times it gets discouraging :/