Think Spring With Bulbs: Plant Containers of Bulbs

Think Spring With Bulbs: Plant Containers of Bulbs

You're probably immersed in fall right now, enjoying cooler weather, changing colors and the final show of late-blooming asters and chrysanthemums. But for us gardeners, a long, dreary winter is just around the corner, and it won't be long before we are wishing for some cheerful sign of spring. A great way to get a jump-start on that spring is to plant bulbs in pots, now.

Nurseries and garden centers are loaded with bins and packages of bulbs in every color, shape and size. "This is the perfect time," urges Connie Skillman, owner of Pot Luck Container Gardens in Ashland. Her excitement is contagious as she names her favorite bulbs for pots. Daffodils (Narcissus) are probably the easiest and most carefree bulbs you can plant. Their bulb has a distinctive pointed shape that makes it almost impossible to plant upside down. They multiply and bloom again the next year and grow from 4 to 20 inches tall in every shade of yellow, white, cream, and even in pink, with single and double flowers.

"Put an odd number of five or seven taller ones in the center of your pot and graduate down in size to the tiny 'Tete-a-Tete' yellow or its white version, called 'Toto,' around the edges," she says. Or mix them with blue or purple miniature iris (Iris reticulata). Another of her favorites is an old-fashioned narcissus called 'Rip Van Winkle' with a brilliant yellow double bloom that looks like it's had a bad scare.

She loves hyacinths for their wonderful fragrance. Their blues, purples, pinks and whites combine beautifully with daffodils. Both are extremely cold-hardy and need no special care after planting. Tulips are popular and beautiful, but won't bloom in pots a second or third year, and the sweet little blooms of purple and white crocuses only last a day or two, she adds.

If you don't mind re-planting next year, "Darwin tulips are tall (about 20 inches) with sturdy stems and brilliant colors," says Judy Trost, co-owner of Southern Oregon Nursery. She likes multi-stemmed tulips that have bunches of flowers instead of just one, and the tiny 4-inch 'Sylvestris' or "woodland tulip."

"You need to look at the packages to choose varieties of narcissus and hyacinth," says Skillman." Labels will also describe height, color(s) and bloom times. "Early, mid, and late" flowering means you can plant now for successive blooms in February, March and April. Labels will also tell you correct planting depths.

Skillman combines her bulbs with varieties of coral bells (Heuchera) from lime green to purple, lacy leaves or not, which thrive in containers. The beautiful foliage of an evergreen camellia (Sasangua) in the center makes a gorgeous entry piece, she suggests. A spiky grass or dracena also looks great in the middle. Good draping plants for over the edges include variegated vinca minor 'Ralph Shugart' or 'Duckfoot' ivy (referring to the shape of the leaf). Both have invasive tendencies if put in the ground, but do well in containers.

Pansies are the favorite bulb companion of both Skillman and Trost. They, too, can be planted right now and will bloom all winter. Early-blooming violets also make good companions. "When your bulbs start to come up in about February, watch for them to push the other plants up out of the ground, and just gently push them back down," says Skillman.

If they are frost-resistant, keep the containers outside all winter. Otherwise, they need to be stored in a garage or warmer place. If they are out of the rains, keep them moist. With proper drainage, they will not stay too wet. When night temperatures are above freezing and daytime temperatures are starting to warm up, bring containers into direct sun and get ready for a healthy dose of spring. And don't forget, they make wonderful Easter gifts.

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