Planting Bulbs in Containers for Spring Transplant


Dear Master Gardener,
I need to plant (add) more tulips, daffodils and hyacinths to my current in ground garden, to make the display more fuller in the Spring but I don’t know exactly where these bulbs are in the garden. I was wondering if I can put these bulbs in a large container and leave out over the winter and when they start to grow, I can transplants them in early spring, thus knowing where the other bulbs are located. Will the bulbs survive in the container or do I need to protect the bulbs. Many thanks Lorrie


Thanks Lorrie for you question:  so many of us have faced the same problem in the fall: where were those tulips that came up last year?  It is possible to dig carefully in the approximate spot and unearth any existing bulbs and replant them with the new.  But I think you have come up with a brilliant alternative.  However there are some rules to follow.

Our Toronto winters are too cold to keep bulbs outside in containers unless those containers are large and insulated and mulch placed on top of them.  They should be out of the wind and not in a place where sun could warm them up before spring.  But they could be kept in a garage, shed or cold cellar.  This article has some interesting suggestions. Bulbs in Containers

They can be planted in potting soil or a mixture of potting soil and garden soil.   Keep in a garage (preferably attached to house), or unheated mudroom.  (Note hyacinths are less hardy).  Once planted, water well allowing excess water to drain off.   Water infrequently once bulbs start to grow but water more often once new growth starts to appear. Once foliage is taller than 2”, gradually move into brighter light and eventually into full sun.  At this point you can carefully remove them from the pots trying not to disturb their small white roots which most likely will be tangled up with each other and plant them immediately among the others that you should be able to see.  Or leave them in the pot buried in the ground to give the appearance of a group of planted bulbs. 

When blooms fade, you can either (a) compost the bulbs , (b) replant them in the garden immediately, making sure to get their bases as deep as they would be if you had planted them there to start with, or (c) move the pot into a sunny, out-of-the-way spot (ideally buried in the ground to keep the bulbs cool) and keep them growing strongly for as long as possible. When the foliage yellows, empty the bulbs from the pots, dry completely, remove the foliage, and store in a cool, dry, well ventilated spot until it’s time to replant them in the garden in the fall. Although they may not bloom the following year, with luck and good care they’ll bounce back from their life in confinement and bloom again in future years.

Don’t forget, if it doesn’t work you can often purchase newly sprouting spring bulbs in pots in early spring.  You can transplant them into your garden to augment the existing bulbs.