Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fall bulb planting in containers

Michele K. Koskinen

Planting bulbs in containers is the only way many gardeners, with little to no ground, have to enjoy the burst of early to late spring that occurs with fall planted bulbs. Paired with your favorite container and flowers it gives the entrance to your home a colorful and cheerful welcome. Living in the city and walking down the street seeing a container of spring bulbs gives the hard edges of the sidewalk a softer feel and beautifies the neighborhood. If you have an apartment with a balcony or a home with a small patio, bulbs with containers are your ticket to a fanciful introduction to spring.

Planting bulbs in containers require the proper protection so they do not have a freeze thaw effect during the coldest months. There are many ways to insulate pots and everyone has their favorite. Here are a few I have read about or used. I am sure there are other ideas and everyone has their own solutions according to the space they have. Share your favorites by using the comment box to share with our readers.

1. The cheapest way to do this is to use burlap, leaves and newspaper around the pot. I wrap the pot in burlap and start putting leaves and newspaper around the sides. This becomes an insulating layer for the container. I have had the most success waiting until the temperatures fall in November.
2. Use shredded leaves or a thin layer of mulch on the top. A heavy layer of leaves will get soggy and possibly rot the top bulbs so shred them first.
3. Put them in a garage or area where they will not warm up during the day and freeze at night.
4. Bury them in tightly packed straw as the insulator.
5. Use bubble wrap inside the container before filling along the sides of the wall. I am going to try this one and see how it works.

Why is that wire around the container? I have a major squirrel problem as many gardeners do. So, the majority of my bulbs are varieties of daffodils and narcissus. The only deterent for tulips and crocus is wire around the pot. It's not the most attractive solution but it works! You can also put wire on top of the pot and let the bulbs grow through the wire.  I have tried everything, stones, hot pepper, and to some success coyote urine. I love tulips but find they are dug up and never survive even as they are bloomng. My solution is to plant the tulips in a smaller pot and then put it into another pot with insulation and I put wire everywhere. I then pull the small pot out, and enjoy them in my home when they start blooming.

This planter had succession plantings of crocus, and early and late daffodils. To have a container with several blooming times you must plan how it looks ahead of time by height, color, amount of foliage and time of bloom. The tallest and deepest bulbs should go in first and then another layer of soil at the proper depth for the next bulb.  This keeps your container blooming for weeks not just days.

You can plant any bulb in a container and have great results if you follow several rules.

1. Since most bulbs need to be planted at a certain depth make sure the container is deep enough for the bulb to be planted at twice it's diameter. The packaging that comes with your bulbs will have the exact depth needed for the bulb.

2. Provide good potting mix and drainage for the bulbs so they do not stay wet and rot from the soggy soil.

3. Plant and water them to get the roots started in preparation for the winter.  Watering if the season has been dry should be once a month. Remember ice kills the bulbs and plants so make sure you have good drainage.

4. Insulate the container to prevent freezing and thawing or store in a garage or other area for protection.

5. Fertilize at planting time with a slow release fertilizer. Do not fertilize again.

6. If planting bulbs with successive bloom times, follow the instructions below.

Layered planting has a few rules:

1. Choose a pot deep enough for all the  layers, 10 to 14 inches high and wide are usually sufficient.
2. Make sure there are sufficient drainage holes in the bottom and layer the bottom with pea gravel or other stones.
3. Choosing the correct plants is important for your container. Choose bulbs that do not have alot of foliage so they do not shadow or keep light from their companion plants. The bulbs should also be a strong species to withstand any wind or poor weather.
4. Fill the pot with potting soil until you reach the depth for the tallest bulb. Place the bulbs point up and facing out. Continue to layer until your final layer is placed as deep as in a garden and covered with soil.
5. Water with slow released ferilizer and cover with a thin layer of mulch.
6. After blooming continue to water and fetilize very lightly until the foliage dies off completely. Move the pot to a place to rest until next fall.

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