Poinsettias and potted amaryllis are two of our favorite holiday gift standbys, however this year we are trying something new--- outdoor container gardens. If you live in a mild climate, cool season annuals can be planted with spring flowering bulbs to provide a cheerful display for porches and doorsteps. The cool season annuals provide immediate visual appeal, and the bulbs will provide a fun surprise a few weeks later.
Here’s the steps we followed to create our container gardens:
For the spring flowering bulbs, I suggest choosing varieties that do not require chilling hours to bloom such as paperwhites and some types of daffodils.
Many spring blooming bulbs require a chilling period of 8 to 14 weeks at temperatures between 35° and 40° F to initiate flower production. To simulate the effect of winter, bulbs can be potted up and then placed in a cool, dark place such as a spare refrigerator, an unheated, frost-free basement, garage, or porch. Although an option, choosing bulbs that need chilling like tulips requires advance preparation and space.
Another alternative is to purchase pre-chilled bulbs, however these are often more expensive and not always readily available. Selecting no-chill bulbs is definitely the easiest option.
2. Choose a container. Anything that has drainage holes and is deep enough to accommodate about 6 inches of soil and the bulbs works as a container. As a rule of thumb you want at least 2 to 3 inches of soil under your bulbs and 1 to 2 inches of soil on top of your bulbs.
3. Choose a potting mix. Use any bagged potting mix labeled for general container plant use. The mix must drain freely and maintain moisture. Either choose a mix that contains a slow release fertilizer or add in a granule fertilizer before planting.
4. Pot up the bulbs and plants. Add 2 to 3 inches of moist potting mix to the container, and firm it gently. Place a bulb on the soil, and twist it a quarter-turn to give it some grip in the soil. Add the rest of the bulbs, spacing them throughout the container. Add some potting mix around the bulbs, firming it into place with your fingers.
Next begin to add in your cool season plants in the spaces between the bulbs. Fill in with additional soil as you go. Do not plant any annuals directly over the bulbs. Once soil covers all the bulbs and the annuals are secured in place, water well until some moisture leaks from the drainage holes. If channels or holes develop in the potting mix, fill them with moistened potting mix.
5. Give plants a chance to grow into the container. Grow the container gardens for 2 to 3 weeks before giving it as a gift to give roots a chance to take hold and let the foliate fill in a bit. Place containers in a location that receives appropriate light and keep moist. Cool season annuals and bulbs can easily withstand light frosts, but protect the containers from hard freezes by bringing them into garages or sheds.
6. Deliver. Depending on the gardening experience of your recipients, you may need to share brief growing instructions.