Stuffed with annuals, pots of fall-planted bulbs stage a changingcolor show in spring. First the annual flowers appear, then the bulbspush 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 intoa 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 plantspring-flowering bulbs and annuals. In very cold areas, you can planthardy bulbs now, but protect pots and soil from freezing; plant annualsafter bulb foliage emerges in spring.
What to plant for pot companions Low-growing annuals with relatively small flowers are the best bulbcompanions. Choose ones that bloom long enough to coincide with bloomtimes 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 inplace from seed. Since some bulbs aren’t reliable year-after-year performers inpots–especially when combined with annuals–choose the least expensivevarieties. You can try tulips (dust with fungicide before planting; wefound them very rot-prone in containers with annuals), hyacinths,and–in mild climates–anemones, freesias, sparaxis, or ranunculus. Ofthe bulbs, daffodils and Dutch iris are especially reliable performersin mixed plantings in pots. Below, we suggest some ways to combine themwith annuals. Daffodils and other narcissus.
Choices include yellow, white, andbicolors. Bloom comes between December and April, depending on variety.Least expensive kinds include yellow “King Alfred’ (about 50to 60 cents each) and white ‘Mount Hood’ (70 to 80 centseach). Plant ‘King Alfred’ daffodils with yellow Chrysanthemum multicaule or white-flowered C.
paludosum, or a carpet of rose sweetalyssum. Or surround yellow daffodils with purple sweet alyssum and asprinkling of purple or yellow violas. Plant a couple of orange-centered daffodils with clusters ofpurple-and-yellow Johnny-jump-ups and orange dwarf nemesia (inmild-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-footstems 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 morefrost-tender because it blooms several weeks earlier. Set deep blue Dutch iris in a sea of yellow C. multicaule or yellowviolas, or surround them with pink or white fairy primroses and yellowviolas. For an elegant bouquet, surround white Dutch iris with whitesweet 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 woodencontainer, as long as it allows good drainage. Fill the pot roughlytwo-thirds full with a loose, fast-draining mix of equal parts loam,coarse sand, and organic matter such as peat moss. Mix in a smallamount of complete granular fertilizer (an NPK formula of 9-9-6 or10-10-10, for example).
Plant bulbs as shown in step 1 above; set them so they’repractically 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 justbelow 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, setpots where they’ll be protected from freezing until it’s timeto plant annuals. Care: watering, feeding Water whenever soil starts to feel dry to touch. After annualblooms appear, feed every two weeks with a dilute liquid fertilizer suchas fish emulsion.
Once bulb blooms fade (they’ll last two to threeweeks) and bulb foliage begins to yellow, either cut back to allowannuals to continue blooming unhindered, or take these steps to savebulbs: gradually withhold water and allow foliage to die back (annualswill also fade), then dig and store bulbs for planting out next season.