The weather is turning colder, leaves are falling, and it feels as though the gardening season is wrapping up for the year. That doesn’t have to be the case though! Gardeners can get a jump start on their early spring flowers by planting bulbs in containers during the fall months to over-winter. When temperatures begin to climb in the spring the reward will be colorful blooms that might even pop up through the last little bit of snow!
Planting bulbs in containers is a great way to ensure early spring color in the garden and flowerbeds. Because they bloom so early in the spring season it’s hard to get them in the ground early enough after it thaws. They either need to spend the winter in the frozen soil or hang out planted in containers, exposing them to the cold temperatures. Using containers is great for gardeners short on space or those wanting the flexibility to move garden arrangements around.
Early Spring Bulbs to Plant
Some plants will flower earlier in the spring than others. These seven ornamental flowering plants are known to pop through a light layer of snow, as long as the soil is thawed.
Daffodils -- Very few things signify spring has arrived like the eruption of yellow and white daffodils across the landscapes. Synonymous with spring, the yellow daffodil symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings. Early blooming varieties will blossom in mid-March. Blooms last 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the plant variety and growing zone; they come in a single color, dual colors, or tri-color flowers.
Crocus -- Though tiny in stature compared to some of the other early spring bloomers, the crocus packs a powerful punch. One of the first of all flowers to blossom its best to plant them by the dozens for a great show of color. They come in shades of purple, blue, pink, yellow, orange, and white.
Tulips -- The iconic tulips don’t blossom as early as some of the other spring blooming ornamentals but they still are well-known for their highly regarded announcement of warm weather. Most tulips wait to bloom until after the grape hyacinths and daffodils have made their appearance.
Snowdrops -- One of the earliest blooming flowers, snowdrops aren’t particular about the weather and often push through a light layer of snow. Hence, their name! The tiny white flowers look best when bulbs are spaced closely together and bloom in late winter or early spring.
Grape Hyacinth -- Blooming in early to mid-spring, the intensely fragrant grape hyacinth blankets the landscape with compact carpets of bright purple. The tiny flowers stand about 6” tall and easily naturalize, spreading and taking over empty spaces with each subsequent spring.
Snow Glories -- The short 6” stems of snow glories boast clusters containing 8-10 flowers in hues of pinks and purples. They typically bloom in late-March to early-April, peeking up through the snow in certain growing zones and pair beautifully with the bright yellow of daffodils.
Winter Aconite -- Another yellow beauty, the winter aconite pops up in later winter or early spring to a diminutive 3-6” tall. They are deer resistant and will naturalize through spreading seeds, filling in empty spaces over time.
Important Tips for Fall Planting
When preparing to plant bulbs in containers, its best to keep in mind the following tips:
- Choose containers that are at least 24” in diameter. The added soil in the container provides insulation to bulbs through the winter, keeping them from getting too cold and suffering damage.
- Think carefully about the material the container is made of. Metal containers can rust if exposed to a lot of winter moisture, and terracotta or concrete can crack or split when the temperatures get too cold.
- No matter the type of container it needs drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess moisture to drain out. Bulbs need moisture but dislike soggy soils.
- To make heavy containers easier to move to the desired location (i.e. in and out of a garden or shed in the coldest part of winter) put them on rolling plant caddies.
The arrival of autumn and the corresponding end to the summer growing season doesn’t mean that gardeners have to hang up their tools for the winter. Planting bulbs in containers for early spring flowers is a great way to extend the gardening season into fall/winter while getting a jump start on garden color in the spring!