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Tulips in Containers, Bulbs

Bulb Basics: Planting Bulbs in Containers

You can enjoy bulbs planted in containers on your balcony, deck, patio and even out in your garden. All of these spaces benefit from a pop of color come spring. As you plant your containers for fall and winter, try including a few bulbs to extend your containers into late winter and early spring. For example, one of my favorite things to do is to place bulbs underneath my pansies. As winter progresses towards spring, my bulbs emerge through the soil and fill the space between the other flowers with a fresh pop of spring color.

What you need to get started:

  • A container made of well-fired terracotta, high quality clay, ceramic, composite (poly), concrete or any other winter hardy material that is at least 14” in diameter. Make sure your container of choice has a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Remove all saucers so that the container does not sit in water.
  • Good quality potting soil—I enjoy using our Merrifield Potting Mix or Pro Mix.
  • Slow release, natural plant food such as Bulb Tone or Plant Tone. Plants need only small amounts of fertilization in winter.
  • Bulbs and plants as desired.
  • River Jacks (3/8”), Seminole chips or pea gravel. I add 1” of this small gravel to the top of the pot after it is planted to keep the squirrels from digging into the soil.
  • Small piece of landscape fabric to cover drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Bulbs in Containers

Potting up your containers

Cover the drainage hole in the bottom of the container with your piece of landscape fabric. Fill the bottom 1/3 of the pot with your potting soil. Place your bulbs on the soil surface. If you’re planting above them, I recommend adding five to seven bulbs. Add 2 to 3” of soil on top of the bulbs and mix in your fertilizer.

Planting Bulbs in Containers
Container with Bulb Plantings below Pansy, Heuchera and Fern

Place your fall and winter plant selections into your container, loosening the roots as you add them. Tuck soil around the plants, as needed. Fill the container all but 1.5 – 2” from the top. Add 1” of your decorative gravel to the surface to discourage the squirrels from digging into your pots and hold the soil in when watering.Thoroughly water your newly planted container and continue to check it for moisture every three to five days throughout the fall. During the winter months your container will not require much water to survive. I rarely water in the coldest part of winter.

Storing Bulbs

Planting containers with bulbs only:

I also enjoy potting up containers filled with bulbs that I overwinter and then place throughout my yard come spring. For this approach l often plant the bulbs in 2 – 3 gallon plastic pots that I can pop into a more decorative container just as the bulbs come into bloom. When you’re planting bulbs only in a container, you can place as many bulbs as you can fit on the soil, leaving ½” between each and following the planting instructions above, skipping step four. Depending on the number of containers you have time and space for, you can plan and plant for a succession of blooms by selecting a variety of types (such as hyacinth, tulips and narcissus) with various bloom times.

Storing Bulbs for Winter

Once the containers are planted, I’ll give the bulbs extra protection by wrapping them in groups with landscape fabric and placing them under shrubs, against the house wall or in another space where they are out of sight.

Sprouting Bulbs

I cover my containers completely in November and December and uncover them in February after the severe cold has passed to allow them to start their growth.

Winterizing containers in exposed areas:

Containers placed on balconies, decks and in other exposed areas may benefit from additional protection during really cold weather. I’ve found an easy way to increase the temperature by a few degrees. I wrapped the container with bubble wrap (not underneath as drainage is necessary) and wrap over the bubble wrap with burlap or another material that I can tie at the top and bottom  with string at the top and bottom, then wrap again over the bubble wrap with burlap or other materials of choice. Tie with string, or a bow if you are feeling festive.

Beauty through the seasons

I love that this method of planting bulbs provides beauty throughout the year. Each season, my bulb containers transition and my garden transforms with the new plants that come into blooms from the same set of containers.

Spring

Bulb Containers in the Landscape

Summer

Fall

Bulb Containers in the Landscape

I plant my containers for fall and winter with bulbs beneath for the spring show. Not only can I dress my display up for fall with pumpkins and gourds, but I can also decorate for the holidays with lights, berries, and cut holiday greens.

Summer Bulbs Are An Overlooked Gem

Without a doubt, spring bulbs are the most popular type of bulbs. Their breathtaking flowers delight us with their beauty and their promise of spring.

But don’t overlook summer bulbs, which offer a special charm of their own. Summer choices put out gorgeous flowers in the heat of summer at a time when many other plants begin to slowly fade into the background. Not only do they provide spectacular color, but they boast big blooms that are sure to make an impact in your garden.

Picking Your Bulbs

At Merrifield Garden Center, we carry summer bulbs in the months of March, April and May. With the exception of hardy lilies, these bulbs shouldn’t be planted outdoors until all danger of a freeze has passed. Tender bulbs prefer warm temperatures and humid conditions, which is why they thrive during our summers here in the mid-Atlantic region.

Plant-Happiness

In our area, summer bulbs, such as caladiums, begonias, cannas and gladiolus, start blooming in June and continue until late October or early November when frost finishes the growing season. For the most part, summer bulbs can be used in the landscape in the same way as their spring counterparts. Plant them in beds, borders, containers, rock gardens, cutting beds and wherever you want to add masses of color and / or height.

Care and Maintenance

You’ll experience the greatest success with summer bulbs if you grow them in optimum conditions. They’ll flourish if you:

  • Add compost and Merrifield Starter Plant Food when planting to enrich the soil and create good drainage.
  • See package instructions to make the planting holes the correct depth space the bulbs apart as recommended.
  • Most summer bulbs prefer full sun. One exception is caladiums.

Summer bulbs require the same routine care as spring ones. It’s important to deadhead, fertilize, water, mulch and provide weed, insect and disease control to extend their bloom times. Adopting good watering practices will go a long way to guaranteeing the continued health and regeneration of summer bulbs. Watering thoroughly at planting time helps to activate root growth. During dry periods, summer bulbs need to be watered thoroughly and allowed to dry.

Depending on the soil, the sun and other environmental factors, some of the taller and / or top-heavy bulbs, such as gladiolus, Asian lilies and lanky dahlias, may require staking and tying. If this is necessary, the simplest method is to tie them to single stakes, bamboo canes or attractive metal supports.

Since they’re tender, summer bulbs must be dug out of the ground each year before the first freeze and replanted the following year. When lifting them out of the ground, remove all soil. Discard any that are undersized, moldy or diseased. Put the remaining bulbs in a cardboard box or wooden crate. Cover with several inches of dry peat or vermiculite. Store indoors in a cool environment where the temperature ranges between 50 and 60 degrees F.

FAQ About Bulbs

It is almost time to start planting your bulbs! While seeing the payoff from planting spring bulbs while it is still cold outside takes a while, it is well worth the wait! Bulbs are a great way to get a head start on your spring gardens. We have complied a list of our 4 most heard concerns about growing bulbs. We help this list helps answer your questions and ease your worries.

1. My bulbs are already starting to grow. How do I protect them?

The leaves of many early spring flowering bulbs, such as grape hyacinths, crocus and daffodils, may begin to emerge in the late fall or mid winter. This is no cause for concern, and it will not damage the bulb or flower.

2. Chipmunks, squirrels and deer are eating my bulbs. Help!

There are several different control options to consider. Bulbs, such as hyacinth, daffodils and allium, are naturally resistant to wildlife damage and can be planted without any special treatment. Tulips, crocus and other bulbs can be sprayed with Repels-All, allowed to dry and then planted. This repellent lends a foul smell and taste to the bulbs so squirrels, chipmunks and voles will leave them alone. If deer are eating your tulips, spray them again in the spring when you first see the buds appear. VoleBloc is a natural product made from stone that has been heated in a kiln and fractured into small pieces. Surrounding your bulbs with VoleBloc creates a permanent barrier that protects them from burrowing critters.

3. If I forget to plant my bulbs before Christmas, can I still use them?

The best time to plant bulbs is in the fall, any time before Christmas. If the ground isn’t frozen, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths can be planted in January with good results while others, such as tulips, may not bloom very well. Bulbs can be stored indoors, but must be kept in a dark location at temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees. This is difficult to do in most homes, so the best idea may be to plant the bulbs anyway and you may have to wait another year for them to flower.

4. I don’t like seeing the old leaves after the flowers have faded. What can I do?

You can hide the yellowing leaves of your bulbs by planting them along with pansies, sweet woodruff, cranesbill geraniums and other flowers. Planting bulbs towards the back of your flower border makes this easier to do. Don’t cut, tie or braid the leaves. This just makes the bulbs weaker for the following year.

If you have any questions that are not addressed in the above list, feel free to call or visit us at any of our stores. We are happy to help!

Foundatin with Tulips, Curb Appeal

What You Need To Know About Bulbs

Bulbs are the harbingers of spring. Seeing the cheerful colors of crocus, grape hyacinths and daffodils popping up through the snow-covered ground lets you know that warm, sunny days will soon be here. Now is the time to purchase bulbs for the best selection and plant any time before Christmas. Planting bulbs is fun and easy to do.

Here are eight secrets to success:

  • Most bulbs need eight to 12 weeks of cool, moist conditions prior to flowering. For best results, be sure to plant your bulbs before Christmas.
  • Most bulbs will thrive in full sun or part shade. Don’t forget that most trees will not be leafed out when bulbs bloom in the spring.
  • Plant bulbs in small or large groupings of six or more of the same type of flower for an eye-catching display. Bulbs also look great when they’re randomly scattered throughout natural areas.
  • If squirrels, chipmunks or voles are a problem, spray your bulbs with Repels-All before planting. Adding PermaTill to the soil when you’re planting will both improve drainage and deter voles.
  • Place the bulbs into the holes with the top of the bulb (usually slightly pointed) pointing up. If you have difficulty in deciding which end should go up or down, you can usually count on the base of the bulb being wider than the top. When it’s impossible to distinguish top from bottom, plant the bulbs on their sides.
  • Bulbs should be planted two to three times deeper than the width of the bulb. For example, a tulip that is 3” wide is planted 6” deep. We recommend mixing Merrifield Planting Mix and Merrifield Starter Plant Food with your existing soil to improve drainage and fertility. Water thoroughly after planting.
  • Apply two to three inches of pine bark mulch to help keep moisture in the ground and protect the bulbs during the winter.
  • After your bulbs have bloomed, you can deadhead the flowers, but don’t trim the leaves. The leaves will continue growing for several weeks as the bulb stores up food for next year’s blooms. Eventually, the leaves will begin to yellow and fade, and can then be removed.