Grow Spring Bulbs in Containers
Do you want to join me this Fall and grow some bulbs in containers? Let me share how incredibly fun it is to create a gorgeous spring bulb display for your garden! Planting flowering bulbs in containers or pots comes with many benefits, but first and foremost your Spring garden will be filled with color during the colder and wetter months—your future self will thank you!
It makes me sad to say I’ve been battling a little bit of writer’s block recently, so I decided to look to the future for this next article. Yes, it is July, and we are in the midst of Summer gardening, but I’ll stick to one of my favorite adages: so much of gardening is planning. Truthfully, we have been planning the Summer garden for a while—we started some seeds as early as February (and even more in my Summer Seed Starting Vlog). I’ve written about protecting your garden during heatwaves, and even ten vegetables and flowers you can start NOW in hotter climates. As a result, I’m starting to feel less guilty about writing about Spring bulbs now…..
When to buy Spring Flowering Bulbs?
Today I’m writing a letter to my future self about allllll the things I want to do differently with my Spring bulb display this year. In fact, this post is a follow-up to Planting Daffodils in Containers & Other Fall Tasks that I wrote last year. The timing of today’s trip down memory lane isn’t complete insanity either. Essentially, now is a good time to be ordering (and pre-ordering) flowering bulbs for Fall planting here in Southern California. In fact, I’d look into purchasing some garlic now as well, as many vendors have started to announce that they are taking orders and garlic notoriously sells out. If you’d like to know some of my garlic seed sources or how to grow your own garlic, make sure to check out my Complete Garlic Growing Guide.
To get started, here’s a little Spring bulb thirst trap to get you excited about planting and growing bulbs in container this Fall:
Growing Flowering Bulbs in Southern California
Some of my favorite spring flowering bulbs or corms to grow in Southern California are narcissus/daffodils, muscari, hyacinth, anemones, and ranunculus. Don’t forget that although these are “spring flowering” plants, they should be planted in Fall in mild climates for best performance. While anemones and ranunculus are two flowers I’ve been growing for a while, last year was my first foray into the all-consuming world of narcissus and daffodils. In fact, feel free to geek out with me over some of the varieties that bloomed by watching my daffodil and narcissus “tour” over on my YouTube channel. Do you have a favorite?
Before we continue, I do need to dispel the rumor that ALL spring flowering bulbs must be chilled! This is simply not true. I may not be an expert, but I’ve never chilled any of the bulbs that you see me growing in my garden. That being said, I fully believe that some varieties do need chilling —-so it really comes down to finding ones and growing ones that don’t.
Today I want to focus more on the types of bulbs I want to grow in containers and evaluating my experience from last season, but you can read about how to care for specific spring flowers in my Fall-Planted Bulbs article.
Choosing Bulb Containers/Pots and Growing Medium
Let’s get one thing straight: A terra cotta pot collection can never be wrong. I collect them voraciously and keep them all around the garden. Honestly, stacked terra cotta looks cute in the corner, even when not in use. Anyway, I’ll be using the same pots again and seeking out more!
Whenever growing anything in pots or containers, make sure they have drainage holes—this is very important!
Additionally, mixing various sizes adds visual appeal to your Spring bulb display. Having different size containers can also help you when it comes to planting time. Personally, I think Spring bulbs look best when planted in larger groupings. Therefore, if you try and put a few large bulbs in a small pot, it could a) dry out faster and b) not look as visually appealing. I did my best to plant smaller bulbs closely in smaller pots, and saved my larger pots to fit larger-sized bulbs.
Last year I used a homemade potting mix to grow my bulbs in containers. This mix wasn’t anything special because it consisted of leftover bags from my garden shed. To be honest, I’m kicking myself because I didn’t write down or record what was in my mix. I’m so upset about that! Ideally, use any mix that says “potting mix” and add in some organic fertilizer. I personally like Down to Earth’s Rose & Flower mix or Espoma’s Bulb Tone.
Mistakes I made growing bulbs in containers
In retrospect, I had some issues with my original mulch choice. Soon after planting my bulb containers, I mulched with some dried fruit tree leaves that were on the ground. Quite quickly, I learned that this was a mistake. In the morning I came outside and some type of critter (probably a bird) had scratched all my leaves out of the tops of the pots! This kept happening—-and so I needed a different mulch solution. Thankfully, we have a corner of the garden with some extra decomposed granite (DG) and so I took the some scoops with the larger particles and mulched the tops of each container. This turned out to be the perfect solution for growing bulbs in containers! Essentially, this mulch was like gravel, so it was heavy enough to not be knocked around but it also allowed for the water to easily seep through. I’ll definitely be mulching with this DG/gravel situation again.
Another mistake I made when I grew my bulbs in containers last year was to plant my anemones in a smaller pot that was already really crowded with hyacinth and tulips. It was a combination that didn’t work well. The part that really flopped were the anemones. While the hyacinth and tulip bulbs were planted deeper in the soil, the anemones were only about 2 inches deep—resulting in them constantly drying out! Aside from being in a crowded small pot and having an extremely light potting mix, I also just think that corms dry out more easily than bulbs do…..Overall, I just would not plant anemones in the same way again.
Classic Spring Bulb Container Ideas
Claude Monet once said ‘my garden is my greatest masterpiece’ and I’ve always loved this analogy between creating gardens and creating art. There’s so much in common between understanding colors and textures—-and combining them into visually appealing scenes. Honestly, I hope this doesn’t sound like I think I’m some incredible designer, but this year my approach is a little more artistic. Now that I have a better idea of what bulbs grow well in containers, what blooms at what time, etc. it’s easier to focus on creating the “art” this year.
My favorite part of the Spring bulb display last season was the muscari (also known as grape hyacinth)—but only because it was like re-discovering a favorite hobby after years of it being on the back burner. See, this muscari was something I bought several years ago and forgot about it. One day I was cleaning out our messy side yard and legitimately stumbled upon a whole pot of muscari bulbs! It’s pretty incredible that they survived, but I will say that muscari has a reputation for being close to impossible to get rid of (just fyi). This year I’m upping my muscari game with a variety of blue shades. Did you know muscari comes in light blue, dark blue, white, and so much more?! Currently, I’ve pre-ordered ‘delft blue mix’ and ‘dark eyes’ muscari to add to the collection.
On an artistic note, I absolutely loved growing the muscari all alone and not mixing it with other spring bulbs. I’ll definitely have several of these muscari pots in the display this year.
Tulips & hyacinth are a great combo. Period.
Tulip and hyacinth bulbs are probably sold together for a reason. For example, we purchased this combination package of pink tulips and blue hyacinth on clearance at Home Depot (pictured below), and I could not stop photographing them! If you’re planning to grow bulbs in containers, this is a winning combination! As a little forewarning, you do want to choose a tulip variety that will bloom at the same time as the hyacinth (there are early, mid and late blooming tulips) or just opt for a pre-combined package mix.
Another tulip and hyacinth combination I had in my garden were some peachy hyacinth and orange frilly tulips. In all honesty, I didn’t love these two colors together, so I’ll probably go with another combination this Fall. That’s the beauty of this process, it’s like creating art iwth flowers!
Always Try Something New
If you’re already a saavy spring bulb gardener, what is a new bulb you want to grow in containers? For me, I decided to add in some mini irises this year. You all know that I LOVE irises—-from the CA native irises growing in my shade garden to bearded irises—they are just incredible flowers. This Fall I am going to plant several new-to-me mini irises in containers. I pre-ordered three different varieties of mini irises (George, Harmony, and Dark Blue) to plant in some small terra cotta pots.
Between muscari, daffodils (yes, I bought more), hyacinth, tulips, and irises I think the Spring 2024 bulb display will have plenty of visual interest. I plan to start planting my bulbs around October. Last year I think I started towards the end of October, but there’s some wiggle room too. For example, the clearance bulbs I bought were on sale in early Spring and they still bloomed for me. Don’t forget to subscribe to my free email list and YouTube channel so you can plant with me this Fall and have your very own Spring flower display! PS: start collecting your containers and pots now. You can never have too many!