Plant spring bulbs in pots now to lift your spirits in 2017

First published by Rattan Direct on 7 September 2016.

Planting your choice of bulbs now, in your choice of outdoor pots, will give you hours of pleasure as winter slowly turns into spring.

And, as Christine Skelmersdale of Broadleigh Gardens says:

It needs no special skills and is virtually fool proof.

Prepare now – even though it feels like spring is months away!

Spring bulbs are so encouraging and cheerful at a cold time of year. In those bleak early days of 2017 you’ll be pleased and impressed you planted your very own bulbs in your very own outdoor pots. They’ll grow quietly over the winter and be ready to poke their green shoots up in the first few weeks.

As my co-blogger, Sarah, has already remarked about containers and pots:

Winter colour is such a welcome boost on rainy grey days that I always wish I had done more to create a bright spot to enjoy as I come home or look out of the window.

Most bulbs can be planted now, in September and October, but not tulips and hyacinths. Wait until November to plant these.

How to choose?

I choose what I like!

  • Scented flowers near doors and seating areas, and on the patio – they lift the spirit.
  • Bulbs that bees like. I like bees and I want to help them find early nectar when there isn’t much about. Seeing them going about their business, collecting pollen on quite cold days, is very therapeutic.
  • Flowers in colours that I love.

Which bulbs are good in pots and containers?

Oh, the choice!

I do love irises and for flowers in January it has to be Iris reticulata. That’s a sweet little iris, 10-15 cm (4-6”) high. Blue, cream, yellow or pink. Bees love them too.

Iris reticulata. Bulbs
Iris reticulata
By Rasbak, GNU Free Documentation Licence

In February and March small daffodils (Narcissi) always look good. You’ll have seen bright yellow ones (perhaps the Tête-à-Tête variety) on sale in the shops, selling you a bit of spring. But there are other colours too, ranging all the way through pale cream to white. ‘Minnow’ has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and smells heavenly. The little creamy flowers, five on a stem, have lovely yellow centres.

Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background. Bulbs
Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background
© Mawis and shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Muscari, grape hyacinths, smell wonderful (bees love them) and are very amenable to being grown in containers. They’re a good bulb for children to plant.

Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. Spring bulbs
Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. © Rod Allday, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Or you could choose:

  • the shining yellow of winter aconite
  • the starry blue, white or lavender jolt of chionodoxa (glory of the snow)
  • scilla (squills) with two to five nodding blue flowers on a purplish stem
  • erythronium (dog’s tooth violet) with several nodding creamy-white, yellow or pink flowers on the stem.

And crocuses, of course!

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus' © Ghislain118 Bulbs
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Prins Claus’
© Ghislain118
Shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

And later, tulips – we’ll come back to them in a few weeks, along with how to layer bulbs in a pot.

How do I plant spring bulbs?

Tips for success from the Royal Horticultural Society and a few points of my own.

  • Choose a pot that’s big enough for the bulbs and the plant they will grow into. Tall daffodils are going to be forever falling over if they’re in a small pot and they’ll look silly too.
  • Like all winter containers, bulbs don’t like being waterlogged. Put some pebbles or old bits of pot over the pot’s drainage hole, put it on feet or bricks and make sure it’s out of the worst of the rain.
  • For just one spring’s display, use a mixture of three parts multi-purpose compost and one part grit. For longer term displays, use three parts John Innes No 2 compost mixed with one part grit. You don’t have to use bulb fibre.
  • Plant at three times the bulb’s depth and one bulb width apart. And, technical term, pointy end up.
  • After planting, water well to settle the soil gently around the bulbs.
  • (For indoor plants) Put the pots in a cool garage (max 10°C) or other well ventilated, dark place. Bring out when the shoots are about 10cm/4” tall and move the containers to a cool bright position indoors (approximately 16°C).

Enjoy! You’ll be so pleased you did this!

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