In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2001
Regional Report

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These paperwhite bulbs were planted in December, and they're beginning to bloom now.

Bulbs in Containers

I go overboard when it comes to buying bulbs. I stock up early when the selection is good, and then I can't resist purchasing more later just for the fun of it. This year, a few Master Gardeners shared some iris and rain lily divisions with me, so my potting area was brimming over with bulbs. (Note to self: Buy small house with much larger yard.)

But an abundance of bulbs is a good thing, as it means I can pot some up in containers for growing now. Even though winter weather conditions are more benign in the low desert than in most parts of the country, a container full of sweet-smelling paperwhite narcissus, colorful crocus, or fragrant freesia can brighten anyone's day.

Choosing Containers

Since most bulbs don't require a deep pot, I use shallow containers. They require less soil, and they are easier to move around. I like to try a variety of container sizes with various finishes, some of clay and some that are more decorative. If possible, I use pots that have their own saucer attached (such as containers for African violets). When the bulbs are in bloom, I move the pots to various locations, use them as centerpieces, or give them away as gifts.

Preparing the Containers

I use a good-quality potting soil and start by spreading an inch or two in the bottom of the pot. Then I mix some fertilizer with the soil, so it's in place for uptake by the bulb roots. You can use a fertilizer formulated specifically for bulbs or an all-purpose fertilizer.

Potting the Bulbs

Bulb packages always come with recommendations for proper depth and spacing. I follow the depth instructions but plant bulbs in containers more closely together. It makes for a more spectacular flower display. Place the bulbs at their appropriate depth and then cover with soil. Moisten thoroughly until the water runs out the drainage hole.

Pot Maintenance

Place the containers in a bright, sunny location. Keep the soil consistently moist but not overly wet, as bulbs can rot. The plants can grow amazingly fast and will lean in the direction of the sun, so when shoots appear, begin rotating the container a quarter turn every day to keep stems growing straight.


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