Great Bulbs for Fall Containers

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It’s a bittersweet moment when you have to brace yourself to pull out all that lush summer growth, knowing that the replacements will inevitably look puny by comparison. I’ve just grappled with yards of overly – exuberant sweet potato vine, cutting back its long chartreuse tendrils of heart shaped leaves, digging deep in the containers to find the funky purple tubers. Some leaves were scorched by unseasonably late hot sun, others were limp from chilly nights. They would look reasonable for another week or so but my own schedule dictated that today was The Day for changing out the pots.

Ironically containers planted for fall and winter have to provide us with almost 8 months of color (late September to mid- May) as opposed to summer pots which strut their stuff from May until Mid-September (or late October if you’re a procrastinator). So how can we get a serious color punch without our favorite summer annuals?

Spring bulbs are the answer. By tucking them into containers as you are planting pots this fall you are burying treasure which will be revealed in a few months’ time.

Shade containers

Although most bulbs need 6 or more hours of direct sun to bloom  well there are a few that will perform satisfactorily in shadier spots.

Snowdrops are one of the earliest bulbs to bloom. Photo credit; Brent and Becky's Bulbs


Snowdrops are perfect for adding a little sparkle. There are a couple of different species typically available but I usually select Galanthus elwesii  which is taller at 12” than the 6”  common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). Plant at least five clustered together.

Winter aconite is as pretty in a container as it is in the garden. Photo credit; Brent and Becky's Bulbs






Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is a fabulous deer resistant bulb that can be used to naturalize in sunny or partially shaded gardens. Its bright buttercup-like flowers add a lovely splash of color at the edge of a shady container but at just 3” tall be sure that the adjacent plants will not hide these dainty beauties.

Jeanne d'Arc crocus is pure white with rich orange stamens.



Crocus prefer lots of sun but if your containers get full morning sun they should still bloom nicely. Typically available in shades of purple, yellow and white it’s easy to find something to work with your color scheme. Look for the larger flowered varieties such as Jeanne d’Arc (white), Pickwick (lilac and white stripes) or Flower Record (deep purple).


Sun containers

I usually look for dwarf varieties of sun loving bulbs.

Tete a Tete dwarf daffodils repeat the yellow colors of the grass and pansy

Daffodils (Narcissus)– the petite Tete a Tete are well known and are great value since each bulb has multiple flower stalks. The slightly taller February Gold and Jetfire with its orange trumpet are also great candidates since their flower size won’t overpower the other container plants.

Fragrant Erlicheer Narcissus. Photo credit; Brent and Becky's Bulbs







For a white color scheme the fragrant Thalia is a good choice or Erlicheer which has double white flowers with a hint of buttery yellow and also smells wonderful.

Juan tulip. Photo credit; The Plant Expert






Tulips – there are many shorter varieties of tulips with attractive leaves – an important consideration for container garden design. Many of these also have multiple flowers per bulb so you get a lot of color from a small amount of space. Red Riding Hood (red flowers with purple striped leaves). Calypso (orange-red flowers edged with yellow and a black base with purple striated foliage) and Juan (orange with a yellow base and purple mottled leaves) are three of my favorites.

Princess Irene are always on my shopping list for fall containers

Where greater height is needed Princess Irene is my #1 choice. Rich reddish-orange flowers with a purple flare are set off by the blue-green foliage. This partners well with dark foliage or lime green accents.

Gorgeous ruffled peony type flowers of the tulip Foxtrot. Photo credit; Brent and Becky's Bulbs






For a softer color scheme Foxtrot is stunning with double peony type blooms in varying shades of rose or New Design has pretty pink flowers and green leaves with white margins. Don’t be afraid to cut off a few leaves if they spoil the look of the overall container design.




The richly hued Woodstock hyacinth. Photo credit; Bissett Nursery corp



Hyacinths – a single hyacinth can perfume a room so imagine what a few in a container can do! With colors from white, pink, blue to purple and peach there’s bound to be one that is just right. Woodstock has long been a personal favorite with its rich burgundy color, closely followed by the hot pink Jan Bos.

JS Dijt iris seems almost velvety. Photo credit; Central Texas Gardener blog





Dwarf iris (Iris reticulata) are a less common choice yet at 6” tall they are perfect for containers. I especially like the midnight blue JS Dijt with a central yellow flash when paired with golden foliage or even yellow pansies. Pixie is similar but a little lighter.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are also a welcome change, their strappy foliage having a grass like appearance at the edge of a container while the clusters of grape-like flowers in shades of blue or white are pretty.


Design considerations

Purple crocus have grown up through a layer of pansies to add a fresh spring look

  • Match the color of your bulbs to the overall color scheme of your container design for a designer look.
  • Height – keep shorter bulbs to the front of your containers
  • Tuck bulbs in between permanent plants or even underneath finely rooted plants such as pansies. The spring shoots  will squeeze through and to the side of these easily.
  • Plant bulbs under seasonal color spots such as chrysanthemums or asters  to give a second tier of color. Ideally remove these perennials when they have died down and gently backfill the hole with a little extra soil to cover the exposed bulbs, although this is not essential.

Tulips and grape hyacinths keep purple coral bells company in this design. Credit; Fine Gardening magazine


Planting tips

Add organic fertilizer under the bulbs when planting to promote root growth.If your garden is popular with squirrels you may want to consider adding chicken mesh or a special bulb cage to protect the bulbs.What about a container with tiers of bulbs that will bloom sequentially in spring? Try the lasagna planting method.

My favorite bulb growers – not only do they have excellent quality and size bulbs they are wonderful people. Can’t do better than that.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs



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  1. Mark and Gaz on September 24, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Thanks for reminding me to sort out some spring flowering bulbs including tulips. Now's the right time to plant them for a lovely display next year 🙂

  2. Jennifer on September 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    I must confess that I have never planted bulbs in containers. No idea why it has never occurred to me to do so! I know I will struggle with dratted squirrels, who love to bury their treasures in my planters and window boxes. I would definitely have to rig some chicken wire covers to keep the little beggars out. Thanks for the inspiration Karen! I will definitely give this a go.

  3. debsgarden on September 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I like the idea of planting bulbs in containers, something I haven't done. Tulips don't return well here and really must be counted as annuals. A few in a container may be a good way to enjoy them. I love the photo of the tulips with the grape hyacinths. I consider that to be that is a classic combination!

  4. Landscaping Katy on October 5, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Love the snowdrops and crocus!