When most people hear “plant bulbs” they automatically think “in the ground.” While these plants are definitely winners in the landscape, there’s another great way to make your bulbs shine – plant them in containers.


Daffodils add tremendous color to any planter!

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Anemone blanda

Sometimes called windflower, Anemone blanda makes a big statement for a small bulb!

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Bulb layering diagram

Layering your planter is like making lasagna: Select your planter and then add bulbs and soil in alternating layers!

Photo Credit: Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Tub of bulbs

Grab a bunch of bulbs from the tub and plant away!

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Bulb-planted containers are a great way to bring some fun, colorful springtime beauty to your front porch, balcony or deck. Here’s how to do it:

First, think about where you’d like your bulb-blooming containers to go. This’ll save you time, money and work in the long run, since the location of your planters will help determine what type and size container to get, as well as how many and what kinds of bulbs to buy.

Choosing the right container can be a lot of fun because the choices are practically endless. Wooden whiskey barrels tend to be more traditional, and they’ve got a good track record – they’re inexpensive and have enough soil volume to safely overwinter planted bulbs. If you get a large barrel, you can even plant a bunch of different bulbs that’ll bloom at different times, extending the show of springtime color. (Note: Terra-cotta, clay or other non-frost-proof pots cannot withstand winter’s freezing temps, causing them to crack or break. If you live in a cold-winter climate, you cannot leave such containers outside to overwinter.)

Wooden wheelbarrows and milk crates make unusual and attractive containers, or you can build your own. Whatever you choose, the key is to find a container that’s got good drainage – or else the bulbs will rot. If your planter of choice doesn’t have any holes at the bottom, drill some yourself.

And if you think picking out the container is fun, choosing what types of bulbs is like a trip to the candy store!

Again, think about what kind of look you’d like and the future location of your planter before you buy anything. Color, height, fragrance, bloom time – these are all crucial decisions to consider when picking bulbs. Make sure what you pick is hardy in your
area. (The Learn2Grow Plant Database, catalogs and plant tags, as well as your local nursery, garden center or Cooperative Extension service, can help you with that.)

Like the containers, the types of bulbs out there are countless, but the following spring-blooming bulbs tend to perform especially well in containers:

So you’ve got your vision, location, container and bulbs. All you need now is a trowel and an amended garden soil (add compost or rotted manure to heavy soils) or potting mix. Now let’s put it all together!

If you’ve ever made lasagna, you’ve been trained well for this planting project. (And if not, no worries – you’ll catch on fast.) Planting your containers is just like making this Italian favorite: You build by adding layers.

First, put in a foundation of drainage material (like gravel) at the bottom of your container. Then add a layer of soil. Eight to 10 inches from the top of the container, add a layer of large-flowering-type bulbs like tulips and daffodils – with the pointed end of the bulb shooting up at the sky. (I recommend overplanting your bulbs slightly, with them touching each other, but not touching the sides of the container.) Add 3 more inches of soil. At 5 inches from the top of the container, add your smaller bulbs like grape hyacinths. Cover with 3-4 more inches of soil, then top it all off with a 1-2 inch layer of mulch. Water thoroughly. When it rains, Mother Nature will provide needed moisture. It’s helpful to supply water during dry spells in the fall, right up until the ground freezes.

When the weather starts to get colder and the ground freezes, cover your whiskey barrels and containers with layers of leaves and pine needles to help insulate against freezing and thawing. This should be enough to get your bulbs through winter (as long as you remembered to use bulbs that are hardy in your area).

Once temperatures begin to moderate in early spring, it’s time to gradually remove the covers (mulch). Generally speaking, all mulch should be removed by early April, except in extreme-winter climates.

After that, there’s nothing left for you but to sit back and enjoy the show! Once the last of your contained spring blooms have faded, you can replant your container with various summer-blooming annuals (space permitting), leaving the bulbs in place – just be careful not to damage any of them.

If properly done, your bulbs should reappear for another glorious season…and again the season after that. (How’s that for a bright idea?!)