Recommitting to bulbs in pots


Over the past few years, I have gone from throwing a few bulbs in pots—mainly the leftovers from in-ground and forcing—to filling at least 8 big pots with tulip pairings, to use in front of the house (the biggest and therefore least portable ones) and in the courtyard (size and weight not quite as important). I use the term “bulbs in pots” rather than bulb-forcing, because the pots stay in a cold garage and come out at the normal time for hybrid tulips to bloom (that’s May, here). They come up like clockwork, regardless of how cold it gets in the garage.  I have tried hyacinths, but these turn to mush for some reason; this year, I may give daffodils a try.

Right now there are 100 Prinses Irene; 100 Passionale; and 50 each of Black Hero, Orange Princess, and the embarrassingly-named Sensual Touch, ready to be packed into 8 (or so) pots. Whatever are left I can force, and those will be in smaller containers in the root cellar, to be used for house blooms in March.

Tulips in pots work because:
-the lack of reliable return does not matter
-my lack of good, sunny in-ground space does not matter
-it’s easy and fun to do
-they are protected from digging predators, and I’m thinking they’d be easier to protect from deer
-many other reasons I’m not thinking of right now

Does anyone else do this?

More on Dig.Drop.Dumb.

Toronto Star garden columnist Sondra Day took a swipe at this promotional campaign in her October 20 column, calling it “thoroughly insulting to women” and observing that it “misses the mark completely.”

She got a letter from the Woodbine that used the usual key phrases like “first-time gardeners” and “young consumers,” assuring her that the campaign would be “… a massive, three-year, fully integrated effort that includes print and online advertising, PR, social and events.” I have not seen any evidence of the print part, but that’s not surprising since I don’t read any of the magazines that would be running it—the Woodbine blog mentions Real Simple, Parenting, and Shape as intended markets, and I have also heard it is in Better Homes and Gardens.

I’m glad that there is pushback on this silliness, which is expensive and, if continued, would surely have the effect of pushing up bulb prices if nothing else. I'm still not sure if it would convince anyone to buy more, or start buying them.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. No room in garage for pots to be wintered over, darn. I think the dig drop done promotion is to try to turn bulbs into chrysanthimums. A return to the “bedding out” days. Old garden books have 3 plant ’em and yank ’em – 1. tulips and pansies, 2. replace with summer stuff like geranium begonias etc. and 3 fall plants like mums. Some how tulips got left behind and only the summer and fall bedding gets done.

  2. Watched a woman at Wal-mart last week pick up a large bag of bulbs. She investigated the tag and each bulb in its pierced plastic bag.

    With her bare hands.

    Obvious she didn’t know bulbs are sprayed with toxic chemicals to prevent insects & fungus.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  3. So what do you do with the pots after the flowers are done? I left mine in the pots all summer long. They got rained on and now I checked the pots and all the bulbs turn mush. Any suggestion please.

  4. Hi Maria,

    Honestly, I compost the bulbs. I like a change from year to year. To me, hybrid tulips are enhanced annuals.

    Otherwise, I guess after the foliage turns, they could be “lifted” as the old-fashioned term goes, saved and planted again the following year.

  5. Your bulb containers have inspired me in the past, and this year I’m finally getting around to giving it a try! Ordered 50 Abigail and 100 Synaeda Amour just for potting up. Can’t wait!

  6. I planted tulips in window boxes last fall. I had about at 30% success rate (zone 5), but I am going to try it again this year. The potted bulbs in containers in the unheated shed didn’t bloom. I’m also going to try planing tulips in some containers left outside all winter. What do you think the odds are that they bloom? Gardening is a lot of gambling.

  7. I like your tulips in pot idea. I haven’t planted tulips for about 5 years, but I just went online and ordered some for the big pot I put next to my front door.

  8. Two people can move the ceramic pots; one person (me) can move a fiberglass or other lightweight pot.

    They are not that heavy–and I guess not as big as you may be imagining. Just big enough to hold 20-25 bulbs each.

  9. I wonder if you aren’t planting the hyacinths too late in the season (so they don’t have enough time to put down roots before the pot freezes)?

    I admit I am now sorely tempted to run out and buy a cheapy bunch of Princess Irene tulips for potting up. I love their fragrance in the spring!

    I’ve got a mixed bag of hyacinths sitting in the garage. I’ll plant them in a pot now and report back in the spring.

  10. I am in zone 4 and I keep my 21″ pots with tulips and daffs in unheated greenhouses. Been doing it for years. I have done it with hyacinths as well. I buy my bulbs at Sams Club for 1/2 price in November. I have to put them in pots as the ground is frozen. This year put mums on top of my daffadils.

  11. I live in zone 7/8 and have been putting bulbs in pots all over. I like to add them to some evergreen companions, and pull off the tops/add annuals for summertime. I have have had some in pots for 3-4 years, and they always come back. I add large rocks to the bottom of my pots, to the bulbs don’t get too wet to rot out. They are my favorite in the springtime.

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