Layer spring bulbs to make the most of space in garden tubs

Planting in tiers is a useful way of producing a succession of spring flowering

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Q. I haven’t read or heard anything in recent years about the once popular practice of planting bulbs in “layers” in containers. Would my two patio tubs, each 35 cm wide and 25 cm deep, be suitable? How is the layering done and what bulbs are most suitable?

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A. Planting bulbs in tiers is a useful way of producing a succession of spring flowering bulbs in containers. Your tubs are a good size for this.

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You can plant in two or three layers. First, place a drainage layer in each container. I use bagged wood shavings, the kind used to line small animal cages. They are light-weight, and they save on the amount of potting mix needed to fill the container.

Add planting mix over the drainage layer, and nestle the bottom layer of bulbs into it — close together, but not touching. What bulbs are planted in the bottom layer will depend on whether you will need the container for planting with summer flowers in April or early May. If it will be needed, avoid planting late flowering bulbs and stick to early tulips (Single Early, Double Early, Fosteriana), daffodils and hyacinths.

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For a two-tier planting, add more potting mix over the bulbs and plant early-flowering bulbs like crocus, dwarf iris, glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), early dwarf daffodils, and Anemone blanda.

If you won’t need the container until late spring or early summer, the bottom layer could be a later-flowering tulip such as the mid-season Triumph tulips or one of the many late tulips. Bulb packaging indicates the bloom period.

A typical three-tiered bulb planting has small bulbs over daffodils over tulips. Hyacinths are also suitable in the middle layer.

Place the containers where they will be protected against fall and winter rains, as against a house wall under broad eaves. Over the winter, keep the potting mix just modestly moist. Bring the containers into a display area when the first top growth appears.

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