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Autumn is the right time to plant bulbs in pots to ensure a stunning floral display in spring

While most of the garden enjoys a winter rest, bulbs planted now will be sending out roots into the soil in search of food and moisture to support their stunning spring floral display.

Why do we plant spring-flowering bulbs in autumn? Most spring-flowering bulbs need a period of cold weather dormancy when soil temperature cools down to initiate bud formation.

Bulbs don’t have to be planted in the ground. By planting bulbs in pots you will be adding another dimension to your spring garden, introducing colour where it is most needed, brightening dull areas, or drawing attention to a particular spot, and you’ll protect bulbs from mole rats.

When botanists refer to a bulb they mean one that is built up of a series of fleshy scales, like the lilium and the narcissi family. Most home gardeners use the word bulb in a general sense to include corms (ixia, sparaxis, babiana, freesia), tuberous roots (ranunculus, anemone) and rhizomes (iris).

Daffodils enjoy morning sun, but should be protected from the heat of the day. Picture: Kay Montgomery

The right pot

There are clay, plastic and glazed pots to suit every plant and position, but just about anything can be used (wheelbarrow, watering can, basket, tin bucket, wooden crate) providing it has drainage holes and is the correct size for the bulbs. Weight lightweight pots with bricks to give stability.

The right soil

Use a quality commercial potting mix designed for pots rather than garden soil or compost that may contain weeds or toxins. Make sure there are sufficient holes in the base of pots to ensure good drainage, and cover holes with shade cloth or pebbles to prevent soil washing out. If potting mix is dry, slightly moisten before planting.

Read the planting instructions on the packet. Bulbs in pots can be planted closer together than in the ground. The planting depth for bulbs is generally three times their diameter. Water pots after planting to settle the soil.

The right place

Where you decide to place pots of spring bulbs will depend on their need for sun, half-day sun or shade, and protection from wind, and ease of watering. Many bulbs enjoy full sun; freesias and anemones prefer morning sun and snowflakes and the forest lily, veltheimia, filtered shade.

Bulbs can be grown in wine barrels in a cottage or Cape Dutch-style garden, in classical urns in a formal garden, in glazed pottery at your front door, and in terracotta pots on patios, courtyards and balconies. Pots of bulbs can indicate a change of level from patio to lawn, or a flight of steps. Place pots of scented bulbs near entrances and windows, next to garden seats and outdoor entertainment areas.

Pots can be raised to add height in a border, and those that are light enough can be moved into the spotlight while they are flowering.

Different hues of the same bulb type create a striking look. Pictured, hyacinths. Picture: Kay Montgomery

Colour combinations

Try various colour combinations of bulbs. Planting a pot in a mixture of colours can be attractive, but so too, is a planting of a single colour. Place pots at eye level to enjoy their delicate charm up close. This is particularly effective with grape hyacinths (muscari), miniature daffodils and dainty white bells of snowflakes (leucojum).


Use a good quality potting mix in pots, not garden soil.

Choose plants with similar sun, shade and water needs.

Containers will need more water in hot weather.

Turn pots periodically for even growth.

Deadhead flowers to extend their flowering time.

Choose a fertiliser especially formulated for bulbs. Indigenous bulbs may not need feeding.

Larger pots must be secure, to prevent injury.

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