Stuffed with annuals, pots of fall-planted bulbs stage a changing
color show in spring. First the annual flowers appear, then the bulbs
push up, bursting into bloom above them. Once bulb flowers are spent,
the annuals carry on the show.
“You get a long-season display that packs a lot of color into
a pot,” says Dave Sollway of Crest Garden Center in Rolling Hills,
California, who planted the two pots pictured at right.
In the mild- to moderate-winter West, now is the time to plant
spring-flowering bulbs and annuals. In very cold areas, you can plant
hardy bulbs now, but protect pots and soil from freezing; plant annuals
after bulb foliage emerges in spring. What to plant for pot companions
Low-growing annuals with relatively small flowers are the best bulb
companions. Choose ones that bloom long enough to coincide with bloom
times of the bulbs you want to use. Bedding plants from sixpacks (about
$1 each) get pots off to a good start, but you can also start annuals in
place from seed.
Since some bulbs aren’t reliable year-after-year performers in
pots–especially when combined with annuals–choose the least expensive
varieties. You can try tulips (dust with fungicide before planting; we
found them very rot-prone in containers with annuals), hyacinths,
and–in mild climates–anemones, freesias, sparaxis, or ranunculus. Of
the bulbs, daffodils and Dutch iris are especially reliable performers
in mixed plantings in pots. Below, we suggest some ways to combine them
Daffodils and other narcissus. Choices include yellow, white, and
bicolors. Bloom comes between December and April, depending on variety.
Least expensive kinds include yellow “King Alfred’ (about 50
to 60 cents each) and white ‘Mount Hood’ (70 to 80 cents
Plant ‘King Alfred’ daffodils with yellow Chrysanthemum multicaule or white-flowered C. paludosum, or a carpet of rose sweet
alyssum. Or surround yellow daffodils with purple sweet alyssum and a
sprinkling of purple or yellow violas.
Plant a couple of orange-centered daffodils with clusters of
purple-and-yellow Johnny-jump-ups and orange dwarf nemesia (in
mild-winter climates) or apricot violas.
Dutch iris. Choose from dark to light blue, white, yellow, purple,
or bronze tones, all streaked with yellow. Flowers appear on two-foot
stems in March or April in warmer climates, May or June in colder areas.
Bulbs cost about 25 cents each.
Wedgwood iris (shown at right), usually sold as Dutch iris, is more
frost-tender because it blooms several weeks earlier.
Set deep blue Dutch iris in a sea of yellow C. multicaule or yellow
violas, or surround them with pink or white fairy primroses and yellow
violas. For an elegant bouquet, surround white Dutch iris with white
sweet alyssum and a few white or pale blue violas. How to plant:
drainage is important
You can use any kind of clay, ceramic, or plastic pot, or a wooden
container, as long as it allows good drainage. Fill the pot roughly
two-thirds full with a loose, fast-draining mix of equal parts loam,
coarse sand, and organic matter such as peat moss. Mix in a small
amount of complete granular fertilizer (an NPK formula of 9-9-6 or
10-10-10, for example).
Plant bulbs as shown in step 1 above; set them so they’re
practically touching in pot center, or space them 2 to 3 inches apart,
depending on the effect you want. Cover with soil so tips will be just
below the surface; press soil to firm it around bulbs. It mild areas,
plant annuals as show in step 2 above; water well. In coldest areas, set
pots where they’ll be protected from freezing until it’s time
to plant annuals. Care: watering, feeding
Water whenever soil starts to feel dry to touch. After annual
blooms appear, feed every two weeks with a dilute liquid fertilizer such
as fish emulsion. Once bulb blooms fade (they’ll last two to three
weeks) and bulb foliage begins to yellow, either cut back to allow
annuals to continue blooming unhindered, or take these steps to save
bulbs: gradually withhold water and allow foliage to die back (annuals
will also fade), then dig and store bulbs for planting out next season.