Photo/Illustration: Ann Stratton
Hybrid tulips can be unspeakably beautiful, but they also come with a daunting array of caveats. For starters, most don’t reliably return for more than two or three years—and ideal conditions are necessary for even that much longevity. Then there are the issues of disguising their dying foliage and filling the bare spots they leave behind—assuming, of course, that voles, squirrels, and other garden predators don’t snatch the bulbs well before they bloom.
Growing tulips in containers, however, lets you skip most of these frustrations. In pots, tulips are eye-catching, portable, and protected. All gardeners—regardless of whether or not they’ve had success growing tulips inground—should give this simple technique a try.
The best time to pot up tulips is in early fall, the same as if you were planting them in the ground. Have ready several containers with outside diameters of at least 18 inches and outside heights of at least 15 inches. Using anything smaller reduces the impact of the planting and the viability of the bulbs.
If you want a certain mix of colors to emerge at the same time, choose from the same class of tulips. Short groups, such as Single Early, Double Early, and Triumph, are obvious container choices as they mix well with spring annuals and will not tower over their pot. There’s no harm, however, in experimenting with taller or more exotic types, such as Parrot and Viridiflora. Tulips of every type and color can work—just be sure to group together varieties with similar bloom times. You’ll only have room for 18 to 22 bulbs per container, so successive blooming (six tulips blooming one week and another six blooming two weeks later, for example) won’t look nearly as stunning as a design that flowers all at once.