Planting Container Tulips

Today I planted my new tulip bulbs in containers. This is my second year doing this. I started growing hybrid tulips in containers because I found that they did not mix well in perennial borders. In borders I prefer smaller bulbs – including species tulips, grape hyacinths, etc.

Container tulips
Container tulips blooming last May.

Anyhow, I had ordered 110 hybrid tulips from John Scheeper’s, seven different varieties chosen by Judy. Here’s how I planted them.

After pulling out this year’s plants, I refreshed the remaining potting mix with a few handfuls of compost. (One of the horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden recommended this approach.)

planting container tulips

I poured some of the mix into a bucket. The mix left in the container should be at the level where you want to plant the tulips. This should be deep enough so that the tips of the tulip bulbs are at least 6″ below the surface. Deeper is better, because it discourages squirrels and also provides more protection against freezing.

Along with the compost, you can also add some bone meal or bulb food in with the mix. I’ve done both, and haven’t found that it makes a big difference, though I’m sure others would disagree.

In terms of which tulip varieties go with which, we like to mix different bloom times and heights in the same container.

Larger containers are better. The ones I used had an inside diameter of 13″. The bulbs can be packed in much tighter than you would in the ground, about 1″ apart. I put about twelve bulbs in each container. Once the bulbs were planted, you can fill the rest of the container with the refreshed mix.

planting container tulips

Last year I kept the containers in our unheated garage. Tulips cannot survive being frozen, but most of the tulips made it through the winter. The ones in the smaller containers, with a 10″ inside diameter, were the most likely to not survive. A space that stays about 40-50 degrees farenheit would have been better than an unheated garage, but I don’t have such a space.

planting container tulips
Nine containers with tulips bulbs ready to go in the ground.

This year I tried something different: planting the containers in the fallow ground of our vegetable bed. Bulbs in the ground will normally not freeze because they are insulated by the soil. These container tulips will have that same advantage, and I will dig the containers out of the ground in the spring. Once the containers were in the ground, I gave them a soaking.

planting container tulips

Now I can start looking forward to tulips in the spring! Although first I have to get all the bulbs planted.

Have you planted tulip bulbs this fall? Have you ever tried planting tulips in containers?

61 Comments on “Planting Container Tulips

  1. Jason, it’s a great way to have tulips in the garden! It’s easy to move them and thus add color to certain areas. I like your idea to keep the bulbs warm in winter! I prefer containers because of squirrels.

  2. Thanks for this helpful post! Tulips don’t do well in the ground here and must be treated as annuals. I really like your idea. I had told myself I would try some in pots, so now you have given me an inspirational oomph !

  3. I have planted them the same way & then put the pots in the ground. I really like the ability to move the pots around. I have some that are early & some later. When the early ones end, I just put another pot in its place.

    • Deer are a problem. Fortunately we don’t have them in my community. One advantage of the pots is you can keep the tulips close to the door where the deer are less likely to venture. Deer won’t eat Narcissus, so that’s an alternative.

  4. I haven’t done this but I think I’ll try, especially at work where we garden on the rooftop of our building. I’m thinking about where I can safely store them in the New England winter. Great post!

  5. Those pots in the border look hilarious! I am a big fan of tulips and love mixing up the colours too. This year I will be planting some in containers since the area of garden I want them for will not be ready until next year. Hopefully, I will be able to drop the containers into borders and no one will notice that I am cheating. Actually, our soil is so heavy, that when I plant any in the border, I always have to add grit. If the potted technique is a success, I will try your containers in the soil method next year.

    • Good luck with your tulips. Fortunately I can use the vegetable bed to store the container tulips over winter. I will dig them out in spring.

  6. Thanks for the reminder. Every fall I say I will plant bulbs and then get busy doing other garden chores. I love them when the pop up in the spring. I have never planted them in pots but may give it a try. Will you cover your buried containers with some sort of mulch to protect them or will the thermal blanket of snow do the trick?

    • I haven’t covered them yet but I’m thinking of getting some pine bark mulch to cover them up. I agree about the pleasure that comes from seeing bulbs pop out of the ground in spring. One of my earliest memories is seeing the crocuses just after the snow had melted.

  7. Your tulips were beautiful in the pots.Good to read your tips for planting bulbs in containers. I’ve “winged it” a couple of years with some daffodils and I love that I can relocate them when they bloom to a spot that needs some color.

  8. You really keep yourself busy. I used to pot up bulbs, but not anymore. All of them eventually went to ground, some becoming squirrel food unfortunately. They always seem to find the tulips! You will have a nice display come Spring.

  9. Great idea and great post. You will no doubt have a beautiful spring! Sigh… I still haven’t gotten around to planting bulbs, but perhaps there is still time. Life seems to be racing by right now…

  10. What you’ve done is a great idea – bet you’ve started a craze now Jason. I’ve not planted any new tulips this year as I found although they came through 2 winters in pots and flowered – the flowers really deteriorated. What I did do was take those in the pots and planted them in the well drained front garden where I have gladioli that survive. If those are successful, then it will be all go for autumn 2014 in the tulip bulb department!

    • To be honest, I treat the container tulips as annuals, throwing them on the compost when they are done. Then I fill the containers with summer annuals.

  11. Ah, maybe I would have better luck planting in containers than in the ground. I am going to give it a try. BTW, you might enjoy looking at my post on dahlias. You’d probably do great with those.

  12. What a good idea. I plant in pots and in the ground and have planted some this afternoon in my new lavender patch.xxxx

  13. Why did you write your idea so late, Jason? I’ve planted all my tulips in ground and now the temps are low ans I can’t dig them out. It’s pity, I could try them in pots…..
    Do you cover the containers with some cloth or with snow?

  14. Now that is a very good idea! I only plant tulips in the ground, fairly deep, and cover them with some evergreen twigs for winter as extra insulation. I’d love to try pots, but have the same problem as you with where to put them.

  15. I do the same ting: Species tulips in the borders and long grass, the others in pots, lily-flowered tulips being the exception. I quite like them in among the perennials and grasses and they do very well there too.

  16. Looks great, you’ve been very busy. Are you going to mulch? I would since it should keep some of the snow and ice from melting and filling the top of the pot with water. This seems to drown the bulbs in my experience šŸ˜¦

  17. The only trouble with bone meal is that it can attract animals like raccoons and skunks, because they smell bone. You shouldn’t have any trouble with frozen bulbs when they are buried like that. Have you ever tried forcing bulbs by bringing them into the house early? Depending on the type of bulb and how long of a cold period it needs you just bring them in, put them in a cool, sunny window and water them.

  18. Really nice solution Jason. Definitely consider a mulch or even the dreaded ugly black plastic. One thing I’ve done with burying pots is to water the bulbs or tubers in, then cover with plastic and a light mulch like fern leaves, pine needles, wood chips etc. (maybe an inch or inch and a half). Then every month or so I drag the plastic off the pots and check for adequate moisture. With the possibility of lots of rain/snow and or freezing and thawing cycles, this little bit of maintenance reassures me, plus it looks better than just plastic!

    • When I kept them in the garage they stayed moist, I only had to give them more water once. They’ve had a good soak and I plan to cover them with mulch.

  19. I just stuff mine into whatever open spot I can find in my pots and leave it at that. The pots are left on the patio all winter. They get cold enough to bloom and are treated as annuals. This will be beautiful next spring. šŸ™‚

  20. I often plant tulips in containers, it is easier than in the ground but I do plant in the ground too as here with no summer rainfall the tulips do return for more than one year. If I plant in containers I usually put violas or cyclamen in the top to have some interest during the winter months, sometimes I plant other smaller bulbs at a higher level in the pot to give a continuation of colour.

  21. All hail John Scheepers, my favorite bulb catalogue and late-night reading material. And that was an inspired idea to stick the pots in the vegetable garden! But aren’t you worried about squirrels digging them up now?

    • I planted them pretty deep and hopefully the wood chips will discourage them. But yes, I guess I am worried but I have not had too much trouble in the past. And I agree the Scheeper’s catalogue makes great bedtime reading.

  22. I don’t plant tulips anymore because they just end up being a feast for squirrels – it doesn’t seem to matter how deeply I dig to plant the bulbs, the squirrels find them. I really love your idea of planting them in containers – I look forward to seeing all the varieties when you post about them in the spring!

  23. Jason, I did this last year. Kept them in the garage that stays 40-50. Every one of those bulbs rotted!! I got 2 tulip plants out of 5 large pots. Disaster and disappointment, for sure. Don’t know what I did “wrong”, but surely something. This year I’m trying one pot and perhaps I’ll try your method of burying the pot in the ground. Crossing my fingers!
    As far as non-potted tulips, I’ve planted a LOT in the new garden areas around the new shed. Species are a big fave of mine – did some clusiana and lilac wonder. Also discovered Old House Gardens heirloom bulbs this fall, so ordered a couple during their dutch auction. Sorry, didn’t mean to ramble on so…

    • Last year I kept them in the garage and lost just a few. Not sure why yours rotted – did the containers have good drainage? Is it possible they were overwatered? I watered mine only once when I put them in the containers and then again in March.

  24. Pingback: Tulip Time | Hortitopia

  25. Thank you Jason : amazing input.
    I’m starting the same thing (zone 3b-4a / garage too cold) although I don’t have like you, plenty of garden space to bury those pots in. So I thought of burying them in the woodlands behind our house where the sun never shine, until it gets to be over 32Ā° next Spring, then take them out in cache-pot.
    Do you think that will work even if there is no real light out there ?
    Also, I read a lot about forced tulips of all kinds, that never bloom again…
    Have you had better chance with tulips kept in the ground this way, have they come back more than once ?
    Thanks in advance…

    • I treat the container tulips as annuals, I replant them every year. Burying the pots in woods should work – they don’t need sun over the winter. Good luck!

      • Thank you so much ! It worked !! All of it worked to a tee.. I’ve had great containers for the past month !! When Fall comes, I’m going to undo them when they’ve yellowed all they should in a hidden place, and make all my arrangements even bigger, and to last longer next Spring ! Wow… I’m hooked !! …very rewarding !! Thanks.

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