Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

November-December, 2008

Bulbs in Containers

by Dr. William C. Welch, Professor & Landscape Horticulturist,
Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Erlicheer narcissus
Narcissus x 'Erlicheer' is a good choice for container planting
Bring a little springtime into your home during the winter this year by growing some bulbs inside in containers. Indoor displays are relatively inexpensive, and some choices may be planted afterwards in the flower bed permanently.

Except for the coldest portions of Texas, tulips and hyacinths will not rebloom another year successfully, but Roman hyacinths, grape hyacinths, muscari, certain narcissus and daffodils, Neapolitan onions and grape hyacinths often do well outside for many years, and can also be grown indoors.

Tulips, crocuses, scillas and hyacinths, along with those daffodils and narcissus with labels stating they must have more cold exposure than your climate zone allows, must have at least six and preferably eight weeks of pre-chilling before planting. Do this by placing them in paper bags (not plastic) in the hydrator of the refrigerator where the temperature should remain around 42 degrees F.

The bulbs then need to be planted in containers and allowed time to build up a supply of roots before sprouting or flowering. Set pots under the protection of shrubs or in a partially darkened shed or garage during this period. Bring them out into the light after several weeks. If the pot is large, place bulbs at the suggested depth, give them a chance to root, then finish off the top of the container with your additional choice of pansies, violas, or alyssum in white, lavender or purple shades to provide more color and "filler."

It's sometimes possible to purchase specially made small glass containers with a bulbous top, for growing a single hyacinth. The plant rests on the top part of the container, and the roots soon crowd the water-filled base.

Earthenware bowls with drainage holes at the bottom - resting on a saucer - are probably the most suitable for growing bulbs in soil the home. Highly glazed pots do not allow as much air circulation or passage of water. Use a good quality potting medium and water with rainwater rather than tap water, if possible. Water cautiously - if plants do not receive enough water, they will give less of a show, but if there is too much undrained water, the leaves will yellow and the bulb may decay.

Certain kinds such as the 'Paperwhites' or 'Soleil d'Or' may be flowered in shallow, glazed containers by resting them among large pebbles, and cautiously watering up to the basal plate. The pots can be placed on the windowsill immediately, but do not allow the water level to drop at any time. As the roots begin to grow, they may be able to anchor the leaves and flower stem, but often thin, green-dyed sticks are used as props. The 'Paperwhites' are some of the best for this kind of indoor forcing, as well as narcissus such as 'Erlicheer,' (a double form of the old favorite 'Grand Primo'), 'Cheerfulness,' 'Yellow Cheerfulness,' and 'Winston Churchill.' These bulbs can be recycled outside after being flowered indoors.

Varieties to plant outside after flowering:

  • Narcissus, Tazettas: 'Erlicheer,' 'Cheerfulness,' Yellow Cheerfulness,' 'Winston Churchill,' 'Hawera,' 'Tete a Tete,' 'Cragford,' 'Ice Follies,' Golden Dawn' and 'Geranium.'

  • Paperwhites: 'Papyraceus' is the reliable old-fashioned paperwhite that does well in South Texas and coastal areas. Look for some of the strains that originated in Israel - these are bred for hot climates.

  • Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) will survive the heat and relatively mild winters of Texas, but the Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum) is much more difficult to grow and reflower here.

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