Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Growing Bulbs in Containers

IMG_2596 Forcing bulbs in water

When forcing bulbs in a vase with water you will need:

  • A container with no drainage hole
  • Some rock or marbles to rest the bulb on the keep it from getting too wet and rotting IMG_2656

You can get really creative with containers  so have fun with it.   Some ideas are vases, canning jars, tea cups, decorative bowls, even a bird bath will work.   I have used sand in a bird bath with pebbles on top to hold the bulbs upright, very pretty.  Here I used an old jar that once held Artichoke Hearts.  I filled it with about 1” of sand then added colored glass.  I set the bulbs about half way down the jar so as the stems come up the sides of the jar will hold everything up.  I also used a large coffee mug filling it a little fuller with the stones that set some crocus bulb on top and added a few more rocks to hold them still.  Fill with water barely touching the bulbs, in fact keep the water about a half inch away from the bulb.

The best bulbs for forcing with the water method are: paper whites, daffodils, amaryllis, hyacinths , and crocus. The most important part of forcing bulbs in water is to not let the water touch the bottom of the bulb. The roots will find their way to the water, but if the bulb gets too wet it will rot. If the water gets cloudy you can pour it out and put in fresh water making sure that it is at the right level. This does get tricky once the roots have formed, just hold the bulb in place and tip container slightly pouring off the bad water and put in the fresh water very carefully so as not to disturb things too much.

Forcing in a Pot

When growing bulbs in a pot you will need:

  • A container with holes
  • Pot screen to cover holes
  • Potting soil
  • Bulb food
  • Optional plants, rocks or moss for top to cover the soil

IMG_2593 Most spring blooming bulbs will work fine in a container, although Freesia tend to get too tall and floppy and do better when planted in the ground.   You may choose to fill a pot with all one type of bulb, but you can mix it up playing with color and size.   You should, however, make sure that your bulbs have the same blooming time for the biggest impact.   Also check the height because you wouldn’t want your crocus to get lost in the middle of your paper whites.

When choosing your container look for one that will be deep enough to hold a few inches of soil, the bulbs and another inch of soil on top of the bulb.   A 6” deep container will work for most bulbs and deeper is even better.

Put a potting screen over the hole or holes in the pot to keep the soil from falling out.   The screen also keeps insects from being able to crawl in while still allowing the pot to drain properly.   Fill the pot to within 4” from the top with the potting soil and add bulb fertilizer.   The bulbs will use the fertilizer you feed them now to store up for next year’s growth. Place the largest bulbs such as your Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths at this level.  Cover with soil and then place any smaller bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinth, or scilla.  You should still have about an inch or an inch and a half to fill with cover plants if desired.  I like to use IMG_25956 packs of violas, alyssum, thyme, ivy, scotch moss, lettuces, sedum or what ever is looking good to you at the nursery.  Try not to disturb your bulbs too much. This step is optional, but will give you some instant color while you wait for your bulbs to bloom.


  • Plant tulips, daffodils and paper whites laying the flat side facing outward toward the wall of the pot that way when the leaves and stalks emerge they’ll grow up and out instead of crowding in the center.
  • Once potted these plants will do best kept outside, but bringing them in for a day or two for a special occasion won’t hurt them. Too much heat will make the stems of most bulbs tall and floppy. The exception would be hyacinths which will do well indoors.


Potting Amaryllis

imageChoose a pot that is only an inch or two wider than the bulb .   I have planted 3-5 together in a window box with great results, just be sure that they all have the same bloom time.

Fill your container with soil leaving room for the bulb to go in with soil level about half to 2/3 up the bulb.   The bulb will be sticking above the  soil.  Cover the soil with rocks or moss.   Because they don’t want much water they are not good companions to most other plants.   Succulents might work though.   The idea is to keep the amaryllis bulb fairly dry or it will rot, but once the foliage and flowers stem is growing it does need a little more water about once or twice a week just don’t get it too wet.

Amaryllis usually bloom about 6-8 weeks after potting though some varieties bloom a little later than others.

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