Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs


Planting up pots with spring blooming bulbs has become an autumn ritual for me.   I consider how the bloom will unfold around the perennials, ferns and woodies included in the design.   I plant with a sense of anticipation and caution.  I am excited by the potential while also mindful of the many pitfalls that can damage bulbs between autumn and spring.

I’ve lost bulbs in recent years to hungry squirrels, bacterial infection on some of the bulbs planted, extreme cold and dry soil.

Some variables we can anticipate and plant to avoid. 


Newly planted on September 25, 2018


I’ve learned to order and pick my bulbs up as early as possible, before they can get old or contaminated in the the shop.  This year, I learned to spray the bulbs with a repellent, like Repels All, just before I plant them to discourage rodents.  I use the largest pots possible and try to shelter them against the worst weather.

Now, I make a point to water bulb filled pots throughout the winter when the ground isn’t frozen, and to mulch each pot with rocks or moss to minimize damage and bulb loss.


November 6, 2018 Autumn blooming Colchicum was the first bulb to bloom in this fall planted pot. Cyclamen leaves have already emerged, and moss has begun to establish. 


This four season pot’s main occupant is a native Oakleaf Hydrangea, which doesn’t look like much at the moment in its dormancy.  The pot is filled with an assortment of bulbs, roots, corms and tubers to unfold gradually over the long months between late autumn and early summer.



We are currently enjoying Tommies, better known as Crocus Tommasinianus, known to rarely attract rodents.  This Crocus species simply smells differently from most species and cultivars, which can actually attract squirrels and mice because they smell nut-like.  Tommies are some of the earliest Crocus to bloom each spring, multiply well and can thrive in partial shade.



We also have another snowdrop blooming and the first bloom of our Cyclamen coum, which will open in another day.  I planted a mix of fall blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum for a longer season of delicate blooms.



It isn’t cheating to begin adding plants in early spring.  Pots are stages, and the players come and go to keep the show lively.  I added the panola last week, to fill a small hole left by a curious squirrel.



I love bulbs in pots precisely because I’m curious, too.  I want to watch spring unfold in miniature, up close; in a choreographed microcosm of what is writ large around us.

Moss mulch elevates the entire experience for me because it provides that splash of vivid, living green on even the coldest, dullest winter days.  It protects and insulates the bulbs while also protecting whatever is in growth from splashing soil during rains.  And, quite honestly, I’m curious to watch every tiny plant that sprouts from the moss.

Left untended, the grass would grow in little clumps through the moss until unplanned plants (read: weeds) overwhelmed the planting.  But no:  We have little snips to keep everything tidied up.  That is a lesson learned from hard experience, too.



You never got around to planting bulbs this year?  No worries. 

You can still create a beautiful pot of blooming bulbs now.  I’ve found bulbs in growth at nurseries and the grocery store for the past few weeks.

Grab a pot or basket and fresh potting mix, plan your arrangement, and just take those bulbs already in growth and slip them out of their nursery pot as you tuck them into your arrangement.  Add a pansy or primrose, if it makes you happy.  There is no shortage of moss after all the rain these past few weeks.

All sorts of interesting things have begun to turn up at local nurseries, and your creative ideas will lead you to just the right components for your own spring pot.



Woodland Gnome 2019


“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

Hal Borland


February 15, 2019



About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs

  1. Bulbs are difficult for us just because the winters are so mild. Many (but not crocus) do well in their first year, but are never seen again. That does not stop us from planting more of course.

    • Of course 😉 Tulips may do that for us, and our summers are often too hot and wet for many bulbs that want to be drier during the summer- like the I. reticulata. Daffodils go nuts for us and spread indefinitely. We are blessed with golden springs. It is interesting how many plants actually need a good cold winter to perform well.

  2. Lovely!
    I tend to go the opposite direction and yank out all the mossy bits as well as everything that I didn’t intentionally plant! On occasion a pansy has popped up unexpectedly – those I leave alone 🙂

    • Thank you, Kate. Early bulb flowers are so tiny. It is a challenge to plan for a background that helps set them off so they are more visible. Isn’t it fun when a pansy pops up? Like a little unexpected gift.☺

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