Tag Archives: tulips

Layering tulips and other bulbs in pots

First published by Rattan Direct on 6 November 2016.

Tulips, daffodils and irises are the bulbs I’m going to plant in layers in a container, to produce wave after wave after wave of flowers in the spring. I’ve waited until November to give the tulips a fair chance of avoiding disease, which should be killed off now by colder temperatures and frost.


Tulips and hyacinths

In September, a long time before the clocks went back, we talked about planting bulbs for spring – in the garden and in pots.

But we didn’t plant tulips or hyacinths in the garden. They are planted now, in November, as a way of avoiding tulip fire, and other viral and fungal diseases that like warm temperatures and damp conditions. The colder temperatures and frosts of November tend to kill them off so it’s worth waiting.

More than one type of bulb in a pot

So I’ve waited, as I want to have tulips as one of several waves of flowers in a container.

The idea is to plant the bulbs in layers: put the bigger bulbs in first, then the next biggest ones and finally the smallest ones. Many people top the container off with some winter pansies but I think slugs and snails would do for them pretty quickly here, based on local experience.

Have a look at this no fuss guide from Gardeners’ World.

My choice of bulbs

I looked in gardens and read around a bit before I made my choice. It’s going to be small irises (flowering in January to February), small daffodils (March to April) and tulips (May).

For planting, tulips go in first, about 15-20cm deep, because they are the biggest. Tulipa Florosa is a pink, cream and green tulip, a lovely combination of colours, and it flowers in May. As the flowers open, the pink intensifies. Tulips like full sun and don’t like strong winds.

Next comes a small and lovely daffodil called Narcissus Toto. It’s yellow fading to cream in colour and has, according to many bulb growers, a slightly windswept appearance. That will match how things are here when it is in flower from March to April. It’s planted about 10-15cm deep.

Last into the pot, 5cm deep, is Iris reticulata ‘Alida’, a mid-blue little iris with splashes of yellow on each fall. Its leaves are sword-shaped. It’s very hardy and flowers from January to February. It likes full sun.

Iris reticulata 'Alida'. Tulips
Iris reticulata ‘Alida’. © Chris Mealy and re-used under CC BY-ND 2.0 licence

Where am I going to put the container?

In my dreams this lovely container greets me at the front door – but my front door doesn’t get full sun in the spring. Perhaps elsewhere in the front garden? But that can be a very windy place in spring as mad March winds race across the Atlantic. Outside the back door, then, could that be a possibility? Maybe but I’d have to move …

Yes, gardening’s full of challenges as we strive for Beauty.




Gardening tips: buy bargain plants and make your bulbs last

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 22 June 2016.

Bargain plants and making bulbs last from one year to the next can reduce the cost of gardening.

Top tip: bargain plants

Garden fetes, plant tables at school fairs and pop up plant stalls outside people’s homes offer a great opportunity to buy locally grown, tried and tested plants. Bargain plants! These may be rooted cuttings, established plants or leftover seedlings and young plants grown in local gardens. Prices are usually competitive, funds may go to good causes and – just as important – these plants are growing near you and are likely to thrive in your garden.

Bargain plants are plants that thrive in yoru garden
Look out for pop up plant stalls near you – they are likely to sell plants that will like your garden, and often at good prices. Sarah Buchanan, Somerset.

Other year-round sources of bargain plants include garden centres that offer plants just past their best at reduced prices, and I have many of these ‘casualty corner’ plants thriving in my garden. But beware the dried up, tired and feeble looking plant whose roots are bursting out of the pot and which, frankly, does not look as if it will live. It won’t be a bargain if it dies soon after you plant it at home. But shrubs and perennial plants that are just past their peak are a great bargain, and it is often a better time to plant them rather than when they are about to burst into flower or fruit.

Top tip: make bulbs last from one year to the next

Flowering bulbs are planted while they are dormant and grow underground to give us fantastic flowers as varied as allium, crocosmia, daffodil, gladioli and hyacinth. Look after your bulbs as they grow and they will reward you with flowers from one year to the next.

Water and feed

Make sure the soil around bulbs in pots doesn’t dry out when the bulbs are showing leaves and flowers, and for at least six weeks after they flower. The soil should feel moist, not wet, to the touch.

Apply a general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore (35g per square metre/1 oz per square yard), to bulbs in your borders during late February to encourage bulbs to flower well in the following season. In pots, apply a liquid high-potassium feed, such as tomato fertiliser, from early spring until six weeks after flowering ends.

Deadheading and cutting back leaves

Cut back dead flowers to the base of the flower stalk. Six weeks or more after flowering is over, cut back leaves that are yellow, brown and straw-like. It’s an old, bad, habit to tie or knot the leaves after the flowers are over. The leaves feed the bulbs for more flowers next year – give them the best chance to stun you with their flowers.

Bargain plants
Wait for the leaves of bulbs to die back before removing them. Sarah Buchanan

Lifting and storing bulbs

There is a lot of debate about this. If you want, or need, to lift and store bulbs, only do it once the leaves have died down. Then, use a small fork to ease the bulbs out of the soil, taking care not to damage them. Clean the bulbs, trim back roots with secateurs and remove outer loose, flaking layers. Only keep good sized, healthy bulbs (looking like ones you might buy) because damaged or diseased bulbs will get worse in storage and affect others. Dry the bulbs in an open tray in a shed or garage for at least 24 hours before storing them in labelled paper (not plastic) bags, cardboard boxes or nets in a dry, cool place.

The RHS advice is to ‘lift and store bulbs where this is practical’ and to leave in place bulbs in grass, borders or containers where they are underneath, and coming up through, shrubs or perennials. But read on about tulips – the special case in bulb circles.

Tulip bulbs need special care

Most bedding type tulips won’t flower year on year unless they are lifted, dried and re-planted. Follow the advice for other bulbs until they their leaves have turned yellow (about six weeks after flowering). If you have to move them sooner, put the bulbs and foliage loosely in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like. Clean the soil off the bulbs and discard any that may be diseased or damaged. Make sure the bulbs are completely dry before storing in trays or nets in a warm, dark well-ventilated place 18-20°C (65-68°F) before replanting in the autumn. Even after all this, another year of flowering is not guaranteed so plant the old bulbs in the less important beds, borders and containers in your garden and the new bulbs in the most conspicuous areas.

Within the tulip family, dwarf species (such as Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii and their hybrids) often flower year on year without lifting,  and only need to be lifted to divide when overcrowded. And in warm soils, where the bulbs can be baked in summer, some species may flower from year to year and possibly multiply.

Bargain plants
Many tulip bulbs need to be lifted and stored if they are to flower year on year. Image by Rosendahl, in the public domain.