Plant Bulbs in Containers

Question: I would like to start some bulbs in containers for winter bloom. Could you explain how to do this. What kinds of bulbs should I plant?

Answer: Various fall planted bulbs can be planted in pots during October and brought inside for mid-winter bloom. The procedure is simple and easy to do. Use 6 inch or larger containers for larger bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Smaller bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinths, and miniature daffodils can be planted in 4 inch pots.

My favorite bulbs for planting are daffodils. Virtually all varieties can be planted successfully. The shorter tulip varieties are better than the taller ones. All varieties of hyacinths, grape hyacinths and crocus are suitable for planting in pots.

Single varieties of one color are most effective, because they bloom at the same time. Combinations of a taller variety in the center with a border of smaller bulbs is also attractive. For combinations, use an 8 inch or larger pot.

Fill pots loosely with potting soil about 2/3 full. Place bulbs closely together so they are almost touching. Push bulbs into the loose soil. Add enough soil and adjust the bulbs so the tips are  just barely covered. Final soil level should be less than ½ inch below the rim. The soil will settle some after watering.

After watering thoroughly so some water drains from the bottom, place pots where they can get 12 weeks of dark, cool conditions. 40 to 50 degrees is the required temperature. Refrigerator temperature is ideal. I use an extra garage refrigerator which is used for extra food and drinks during the summer, but is mostly empty now. Pots can also be placed outside and covered with a dark tarp. The variable temperature makes the timing less precise, they develop almost as well as a refrigerator.

After 12 weeks, white roots will start to show at the bottom drain holes. The tips of the leaves will start to show above the soil surface. Containers can be brought inside into full light. They will bloom within 2 weeks.

I also plant bulbs in tubs and larger containers which are used for summer annuals. Use a garden trowel to make holes for bulbs. They can be planted a little deeper than in smaller pots, since there is more room for root growth. Bulbs can be spaced 2 or 3 inches apart. Combinations of 3 varieties can be placed in larger tubs. Containers can be placed outside in a protected location. They will bloom at their normal time unless you bring them inside to warmer conditions.

Bulb leaves will still be present when it is time to plant new annuals. Simply insert annual flower plants between bulbs and let them grow while bulb leaves are maturing. Bulbs can remain in the pots during the summer and will be ready for bloom the next season.

Pre-treated Paper white narcissus and Amaryllis bulbs can be forced into bloom without a cold treatment.



Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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