Tuesday, November 11, 2008

potting up bulbs for spring

Even though most of the annuals were still holding on in the containers out front, like the hibiscus above, I decided to take advantage of the day off and get my bulbs planted for spring. If you don't have a garden of your own this can be a great way to add a little green to your life. Not to mention it is really easy to do and your neighbors will be totally wowed. Then, once your bulbs are done blooming in late spring you can pull them and replant the containers you already have in place for your summer display. But let me not get too ahead of myself.

You will need pots, bulbs, and potting soil. If you are going to plant big bulbs like tulips or daffodils then you want your containers to be at least 10" or more in depth. This is so that your bulbs can be planted with enough room beneath them for their roots and enough room above for the necessary winter protection and growing room. Over the winter months your bulbs will take advantage of days in the 40's and 50's and will put out a lot of root growth and shoot growth under the soil so that they are properly anchored and ready to put on a great show come spring. Glazed terra cotta or fiberglass pots are less likely to crack if they are exposed to a lot of moisture and freezing and thawing temperatures, but they can be much more pricey too. I opted for basic 12" terra cotta pots (at only $10 apiece) and I think they will hold up fine for a season or two. For the bulbs, I am experimenting this year with five or six different cultivars, two different tulips and four different daffodils. Last year I got double tulips and double daffodils and although beautiful, I realized the over-petaled flowers were a bit too heavy and required a lot of staking. This year I picked based on some height variation and different color combinations that I hope will play well off each other. As far as the soil, a brand-name potting soil will be fine, as long as it has good drainage and won't retain too much moisture. Don't bother with some generic bags of pulverized who-knows-what. Bulbs need good drainage and it's always worth investing in good soil because that is the base of good plants. You might also want to grab a tape measure and sharpie.
Usually first I mark the inside of my pots. Putting your tape measure against the inside of your container, mark your pots 2-3" from the base, making sure you have at least 6"-8" of room above that marking. This is the level at which you are going to plant your tulips and/or daffodils. Put down your base of soil and then you can place your bulbs. In a garden setting you would space your bulbs a few inches apart, but for containers we want to max-out the space and the wow factor so you can place them closer against each other. Think about how the shoot and foliage of the plant will be narrow and upright and it makes sense that you can jam them together a little more closely. One container I did with the two different tulips, a yellow 'Big Smile' and deep purple 'Queen of Night' for a little contrast. The four kinds of daffodils I placed randomly in the other three containers. Then I slowly fill in the rest of the containers with the potting soil, packing it down some, but not with too much force. Remember the importance of drainage when it comes to bulbs.
Because of the flare of my containers I stopped before filling them up all the way. Minor bulbs are what horticulturists call the many different bulbs that you can find that are significantly smaller in size. These would include such plants as Chionodoxa, Muscari, Scilla, Crocus, and others. Here I have some Crocus corms from last year which did really well for me so I figured I would reuse them. For these bulbs I have measured down about 2-3" from where the soil level will ultimately be and leveled the soil around the edge of the container. In years past I have laid down a whole layer of minor bulbs but found that they put out enough roots of their own that it wasn't the easiest for the larger bulbs underneath to penetrate. Therefore this year I decided just to ring the smaller Crocus around the edge of the containers so that the containers are nice and full of foliage and flower from lip to lip.
Then top off your containers with soil and again pack it down just a little bit. Place them and you are pretty much done and ready for spring. I crumpled some leaves as a quick-fix mulch and during the holidays will probably recycle some Christmas tree cuttings to add some interest and protection to the tops of the containers so that we're not just looking at pots of soil. The mulch will also help absorb a little bit of the winter freeze so that the soil temps can be more regulated, which is why we mulch in the first place. If it rains that will be fine because I know the soil is free draining enough, and if it snows I will wipe off excess snow so that the pots do not get too overly saturated.
And then before you know it spring will be here and you and everyone around you will be psyched. Happy planting!

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