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Putting bulbs at center stage in pots.

From portable tubs to strawberry jars, containers give bulb gardeners maximum flexiblity and freedom to experiment.

With just one pot, you can group a handful of bulbs for concentrated effect; it's a good way to try out unfamiliar choices and to fine-tune combinations before committing more time and space to them. By using several pots and planting a different kind in each, you can rotate a succession of bulbs into place as each one reaches peak bloom.

Containers also simplify your chores. You can let rain do most of the winter watering, yet pack pots off to a dry haven when storms threaten to flatten flowers. You can lift plants out of reach of chompers and stompers by putting them on a porch or platform. Then, when bloom fades, simply cart the containers off scene.

Big pots work best. The larger the pot, the better the bulbs grow and the easier they are to keep most--but the harder they are to move. We recommend containers 8 to 10 inches deep and at least 8 to 12 inches wide; 15 inches or more across is even better.

Before you plant in a clay or wooden container, you can reduce water needs by sealing the inside with asphalt roofing compound or the goop you use to seal pruning wounds. Leave the top 1-1/2 to 2 inches of the pot untreated so the coating won't show above the soil.

In containers, you're aiming for first-year impact rather than allowing for future growth, so ignore usual spacing recommendations and plant bulbs so they almost touch. Place tips about 1-1/2 inches below the pot rim and just cover with potting mix. This leaves about an inch for water above the soil. Water thoroughly.

Care around the calendar. Where freezing is not a problem, your chief concern is to keep soil moist between rains. To encourage root growth, start potted bulbs in a cool, dark spot--the north side of the house, under an evergreen tree, in the garage. In moderate climates, no further insulation is usually necessary, but some gardeners like to mulch over and around pots to hold moisture and as insurance against an exceptionally warm winter.

In areas with freezing temperatures, mulch is necessary. It's also best to start bulbs earlier (in September or October), so roots grow before cold weather arrives. Put pots in a coldframe or cool greenhouse and cover with a foot of mulch. Or dig a flat-bottomed pit about a foot deep and cover pots with a foot of mulch. Or dig a flat-bottomed pit about a foot deep and cover pots with 12 to 18 inches of oak leaves, pine needles, ground bark, or similar loose insulating material.

In spring, check periodically for emerging shoots. When growth is about an inch tall, remove any mulch and gradually expose leaves to filtered light until they turn green. Then move plants into bright light until flowers open.

To keep bulbs for following years, fertilize once after bloom and continue to water until leaves begin to brown. Then withhold water. When foliate is completely dry, you can store most bulbs in thier pots or in mulch in a cool, dry place.

Bloom is best the first year, especially if you use small or shallow pots and plant bulbs closely. Many gardeners move last year's potted bulbs into the ground each fall and buy fresh ones for containers. Others reuse the same bulbs for several years without even repotting, plugging any gaps with annuals from sixpacks.

Tubs on stands for close viewing,

strawberry jars for pocket planting

Gene Bauer's stands, pictured on page 282, are 4-by-4 redwood posts sunk about 2 feet into the ground, with decorative flanges on the sides and a 12-inch circle of wood nailed on top. In spring, tubs set on top display a rotating selection of bulbs, followed by evergreen or annuals.

The Bauers find that blooms of top-size exhibition Dutch hybrid hyacinths are so heavy they flop over unless staked; the smaller garden size or large bedding hyacinths (16 or 17cm size) are preferable.

In the strawberry jar, we used each pocket to test a different color hyacinth. The verdict? White and the blue to purple shades look like pictures on nursery labels and combine well with most flowers. They are clean colors with lots of sparkle.

The others are much more pastel than most photographs suggest. Reds are actually dark rose-pink; orange is soft salmon; yellow is the color of butter--pretty but disappointing with strong-hued companions. The yellows in particular look dingy with white; use them with gentle contrasts, such as pale blue forget-me-nots or yellow and purple Johnny-jump-ups.

To keep soil from falling out of the pockets until roots anchor it, tuck a bit of sphagnum moss behind each bubl.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1985
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