Container Tulips: Back to the Garage You Go!

Last fall I wrote about how I had planted 96 hybrid tulip bulbs in containers for the spring of this year. I prefer to use species tulips, which are smaller and more perennial, in my beds. Judy, however, missed the big, luscious hybrid tulips, and so I thought I would give growing them in containers a try. Tulips in containers bloom once, then go on the compost pile.

Tulip 'Kingsblood', one of our choices for containers.  Photo: Tulip Gallery.
Tulip ‘Kingsblood’, one of our choices for containers. Photo: Tulip Gallery.

When the really cold weather arrived, I moved the containers into the garage. I’ve read that tulips in containers are more vulnerable to freezing temperatures than those in the ground.

We have an attached, unheated garage. I assumed that if I lined the containers along the wall that the garage shares with house, the tulip bulbs would be OK. I did notice during the winter that the surface of the planting mix in the containers was frozen, and I worried a bit how the bulbs were doing.

Tulip bulbs in container
Planting tulip bulbs in container.

So imagine my delight two weeks ago when I saw the first red tips of tulip leaves emerging from the containers. At that point it seemed as if spring had finally arrived. I didn’t want my baby tulip leaves to go without sun, so I moved them out to the front steps.

Container Tulips
If you look really closely you can see the red tips of the tulip leaves.

However, as the days passed the arrival of spring turned out to be on hold. Temperatures went below freezing most nights.

Now that I am about to leave on a five day business trip, the low temperature for the week is predicted to be just 15 degrees F (-9 C). So I am moving my poor tulips back into the garage.

Container Tulips
Back in the garage they go. Yes, I know the garage is messy.

Sigh. I hate to deprive them of sunlight (not that we’ve had much of that either), but I’m also afraid of a massive tulip fail due to frozen bulbs.

Are any of you growing tulips in containers?

70 Comments on “Container Tulips: Back to the Garage You Go!

  1. Those are a lot of containers! I tried it last year to no avail. Maybe if you have success I’ll be inspired to try it again this fall! Can’t wait to see pictures. It’s been cold here again all this week, and now we expect 6 inches of snow tomorrow evening. That will be the most we’ve gotten in one storm since right after Christmas! Sigh. . .

  2. I never trust our weather and have moved my own pots in and out before. When you have so many it becomes a real chore. Sometimes I have client plants before installation when they need special attention, and I move them in and out with the weather. Your tulips will be happy for your extra attention. Soon, just soon Spring will officially arrive, but the weather lets us know when it is truly ready.

  3. Digging a trench about 6″ deeper than the pots are high and then lining up the pots in the trench before covering them with straw, leaves, or bark mulch works well. One good watering in the fall is all they need until you see new growth. Covering the trench with a tarp makes finding them easier in the spring. If you have a cold frame, that’s even better. This method assumes you have an out of the way spot that won’t be disturbed during the winter.

    • That does sound like a good approach, but I don’t think we have that kind of out of the way space in our little 1/4 acre lot.

  4. I am afraid the voles found my tulips and ate most of them. I am trying to plan for next year to forget about the loss of them this year. Perhaps I will take a lesson from you and plant my bulbs in many containers and store them in the garage. 🙂

  5. Kevin, I planted tulips in a half-barrel in the front yard of my Gettysburg townhouse last fall. I haven’t given them any special protection or coddling, so we’ll see what happens.

    • I hope your tulips bloom. I think you are a zone warmer than I , also a large container like a half barrel should have some advantage.

  6. I have never tried growing tulips or any bulbs in pots. Like you, I’m growing species tulips in the ground and I love the effect. I’m impressed with your many pots AND your hauling abilities.

  7. I am not growing them in containers but I have seen several bloggers growing them this way. I have a good feeling about your tulips!!! I can see the tips of them showing like you said in the above photos!!! Keep up the hard work and let us know how it goes!!! Come on Spring!!!

  8. I gave up on Tulips after rabbits ate all of mine. But growing them in pots on an enclosed porch that gets a bit of sun might work. Thanks for the idea. Have a great trip! When you come back, maybe spring will be ready to show itself for real.

    • The week after this is supposed to be a lot more spring like here. It’s a work trip, so it’s not going to be all that great. I’ll be glad to return home.

  9. I have thought about for a long time, but haven´t come around to it yet, It is a very good idea, as you can move them around as you please. Looking forward to seeing them in bloom.

  10. The unheated garage is the perfect set up. The once I tried tulips in pots, I discovered, too late, that black pepper would keep the squirrels from feasting on them.

    • I hope it is the perfect set up. It seemed to get colder than I though it would. Also, I should probably think about putting lights in there.

  11. I have to grow tulips in pots here as our soil is heavy clay and we are so wet in the winter. I tried the pots in the greenhouse, the mice ate them, I tried them on the balcony, the squirrels ate them, so this year they have been in the conservatory which is just kept frost free, we now have tulips growing like mad and almost flowering! They are now outside, wrapped in fleece to try and slow them down, I don’t think the mice and voles will be interested now that they are almost flowering, or I hope not!

    • I’m afraid mice and possibly other rodents to sneak into the garage. They tried to get at the bulbs but I had planted them too deep.

  12. I always want to grow tulips in a pot with daffs – planting the tulips lower than the daffs so that they come up later, but actually I am a lazy gardener, and so will never get round to that…. and I admire your fortitude in moving all those b.loody pots! All my tulips are planted once and left. They seem to thrive in this garden, and I see that this year some of them have multipied a lot, so I’m sure chance has a lot to do with it. Anyway, fingers crossed for yours when you get back from your trip.

  13. I am excited to see them grow. It looks like your cold temps have been lingering there for so long. Better blow them off to this direction, so we can get some share of the colder temps!

  14. I tend to take my spring bulbs out of their pots when they have finished flowering and replace them with summer bedding plants. I remove all the soil and store them in an unheated greenhouse until the following year. The freezing temps of late autumn and early winter stratisfies them and as they begin to sprout I put them in pots again.

  15. I wouldn’t have worried leaving them on the porch, Jason. Tulips withstand a lot, particularly cold temperatures, even in bloom. And yes, I have some I planted in pots and then buried under 6-8″ of pine needles along my fence (no garage). I thought I’d bury the pots in my deck’s window baskets or some pots on my deck in the spring.

    • Thanks for the reassurance! Unfortunately I don’t really have a place to bury the pots and they are kind of big for window baskets.

  16. I have forced bulbs many times over the years, but since dahlias are my focus, I have enough to do watching the tubers all winter! However, I believe that you cant really slow down a bulb in terms of its bloom time with temperature. There are just so many days from the day of planting in soil until the day it blooms (think of a human baby here! They are born when they are “ready”) If you take away the light, the plant will tend to get leggy as it stretches for light. So I understand that you want to keep them from freezing (as that is a no no – cant let it freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw or the bulb’s cells will break down and rot eventually. But don’t take the light away – the longer days and more light are what will give you a great plant and not a leggy spindly thing. If your garage has light, they are better there, or you could bring them inside the house.

    • You may be right about the timing of bulbs – that could be a good topic for a post! My unscientific observation, though, is that they do seem to emerge at different times depending on the weather. I’ll have to do some research on that.

  17. Are not tulips grown in containers perennial? I am asking this because you mentioned that tulips will bloom once in the container and then they will go to the compost heap.

    • Most hybrid tulips are not considered very perennial even in the ground, although I know there are exceptions. The quality of the blooms decline and the leaves get bigger. I read in Garden Rant that tulips grown in containers don’t re-bloom well.

  18. I’ve never tried tulips in containers. I can’t grow them in the ground because chipmunks and squirrels eat them – I changed to daffodils. But, I’m anxious to see yours and may just have to try it.

  19. I Jason, I sure am growing tulips in containers. They’re my absolute favourite flower and so I cram them in wherever I can. No idea what types I am growing – I just go for bags of mixed or the ones with interesting pictures on the packaging! I really should learn more about what I’m planting, especially tulips since they’re my favourites. I’ve got my first one in flower, just this weekend. Still no daffodils though, such an odd March over here. It was mild at the weekend and sunny but snowing today. It’s hard to know what to do for the best. I think you’re right to protect them from freezing. My containers are either at the front of the house, which is sheltered and warmer because of the house itself or in the greenhouse. The first one to appear is one that’s out front by my door. A little stripey fella 🙂 I hope yours will be safe and come up soon, can’t wait to see them!

  20. I thought Jayne’s comment was quite interesting (about not being able to slow down a bulb’s destined bloom time). Just a thought – if you mulched the tops of the containers, stuck them to all together, and wrapped them with something, could you leave them outside so they could get light?

    • That idea about the mulch and wrapping is a good one. Unfortunately I just did not have time before I left. Maybe next year.

  21. I hate how this weather has been nice and warm, then back to freezing. We don’t grow tulips (except as annuals) here, because it doesn’t get cold enough for them. Good luck with your container tulips. I hope you are pleasantly surprised and not disappointed.

  22. I grow about 30 different types of tulip every year in the garden at Whichford Pottery. Warwickshire, UK. All of them in pots (about 200). I know you get much harsher winters than we do but our temps can go down to -18C (-0.4F) and the pots (all hand-thrown terracotta) are regularly partially or completely frozen. In, in 12 years at least 95% of the tulips havet come up fine every year. They need cold temperatures to initiate flowers, so should not be kept too warm. I give the pots no protection at all. In late winter/early spring lack of water can cause the tulips to abort their flowers so if you do take your pots into shelter make sure that they get enough water. Here’s my blog about the Whichford garden: http://www.whichfordpottery.com/main/potting-up/snail-weather.html

  23. Last year was the first time I grew tulips. They were safely in pots in the greenhouse then moved outside just before they were ready to flower…….then something ate them. Went out to the garden one morning and the foliage had either been eaten or the bulbs pulled right out of the pots. To this day we have no idea what it was. This year we have planted loads in the ground plus some more in pots. Fingers crossed, so far so good!

    • Rabbits, deer, and other critters love to eat tulips. Seems very unfair. I wish you all the luck with this year’s blooms!

  24. My weather is too nasty to ever try this…but I am sure the weather will turn soon and they will spring into high gear rewarding you with wonderful blooms…can’t wait to see them.

  25. wow, that’s a lot of containers. What a display you’re going to have. I’m sure you’re bulbs will be just fine. Bulbs have a great capacity for knowing when the conditions aren’t just right and putting their growth on hold.

  26. I have several pots full of tulips. That’s my favorite way to grow them. I treat them as annuals, too. However, I’m a zone 7a so my containers stay outside all year. In warm winters it guarantees they get the chill they need to start growing. I planted about 75 bulbs.

  27. I plant tulips in containers, then move them into the garden in the autumn to give smaller performances the following year. Ours just stay outside in the elements, they seem to get through the winter’s rain, snow and winds okay.

  28. We have a fresh covering of snow this morning. Very depressing at this time of year. I did put a few small bulbs in containers outdoors. This is the first year for doing this, so we will have to see if it works out. I hope all goes well with the tulips. From the number of pots, it should be an impressive display.

  29. I’ve always wanted to try this but haven’t. When I had a sunnier garden and carried over plants in the garage, I kept them in an old wagon which made them easy to move outdoors on nice days.

  30. I have am old tin bath with I filled with tulip bulbs last Autumn, ridiculously packed together. They were packets discounted at the end of the bulb season and there are lots and lots of leaves showing so I am very hopeful of a stunning display which I will brag about but if it is a flop I will keep quiet!!

  31. I wish that I had – it has been such a cold winter/spring. I’m afraid I’ve cheated with the store-bought variety. Just think how much fun you’ll have releasing them upon your return.

  32. Our winter is mild, and I left my tulip containers outside, near the garage wall. Their green tops are already pretty tall. This was a good thing. The bad thing is that those tulips are not species tulips, and those nice green leaves won’t be followed by the flowers. I need to plant new bulbs to have flowers. I hope your plants will be OK!

  33. Is winter never going to end this year? All my tulips are left in the garden to fend for themselves. If they die, too bad. There’s enough stuff I have to lug around already.

  34. Jason I think I’ve been successful in bringing my container grown tulips through winter for a 2nd year running. They have all put out plenty of growth but only time will tell if they flower or not. Mines were sheltered against a sunny wall of the house with a layer or 2 of bubble wrap around the pots. They have been brought round to the back of the house and had frosts, snow and heavy rain this last 2 weeks and don’t seemed to have flinched.
    I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful display in May time!

  35. In my Binghamton, NY area garden, I’ve never grown tulips in pots. Several years, we tried digging them up after the foliage died and replanting them. Daffodils do a lot better for us. Have too many things going on in my life to try to grow tulips in containers and my son’s car (long story) is taking up almost our entire garage. Sigh.

  36. Hi Jason, all those containers full of tulips are going to look glorious! Just be careful when you have pots on pots that you don’t squash what’s growing in the one underneath.

  37. Late reply, I know. I live in Chicago and also have a garage full of pots where I planted tulips and daffodils. They are starting to sprout up an inch or so. It’s hovering around 30 to 35 degrees now, down to about 20 at night. Is it okay to put the pots out on the balcony now? They have a bit of mulch on the top of the pots. I really would like to bring them out, but is it too cold?

    • Hi Sandy. I’d say my advice is something less than expert, but for what it’s worth, I’d suggest waiting until Monday or Tuesday. Tomorrow is supposed to be pretty cold. Is your garage heated, and does it have grow lights? You obviously don’t want your tulips growing for logn without sunlight or a good substitute.

  38. Thanks for answering! I didn’t realize you are in Chicago too. My garage is unheated and no lights unfortunately.

    Last year I put pots of Geraniums in the garage to see if they would come up. The leaves that came up were white. They turned green as soon as I put them outside, but I did wait until late April.

    I’ll see if it gets warmer next week; good idea. I’m thinking that if it stays above 40 that should be good? I need to take some pictures for you, I’m embarrassed at the quantity of stuff I planted.

    I also experimented with keeping a couple of pots right on the balcony. I covered them with layers of spruce branches. I just checked under the branches, and something is coming up, so maybe they will work this time. I’ve never had bulbs come up that I’ve left outside on the balcony before, but I didn’t mulch them.

    • I’m surprised Geraniums (you mean the tender Geraniums, right) would come up in an unheated garage. The only quantity of planting you should be embarrassed by is too little!

  39. Yes, the tender Geraniums. It was in a huge pot, I had been bringing it in the house every year. I got tired of doing that. I figured it would either live or it wouldn’t. I didn’t water it much. If I remembered, I would dump a bottle of water on it. Once a month at the most.

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