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Spring flowering tulips in containers

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Spring flowering tulips in containers

Postby seacat » Nov 25, 2007 1:36 pm

Does anyone out there have real experience with this?

Since this post may be unreasonably long, I’ll summarize my question quickly and for anyone who’s interested, there’s more detailed info below.

I’ve potted up spring flowering tulips and other bulbs. I ‘watered well’ and essentially stored the pots in a dark cool place as the experts recommend.

Two weeks later, the soil still seems more ‘wet’ than ‘moist’. How do I tell if the soil is too moist to store the tulips in their ‘winter shelter’ (see below)?

Today we’ve got sun so I’ve removed them from their winter shelter and put them in the sun to dry out a bit – is this a mistake? Should I continue to dry out the soil by leaving them in the sun for the next day or two? There’s rain and snow in the forecast for Tuesday though. Bringing them inside to dry out probably isn’t a good idea because its too warm.

Should I repot them asap in fresh soil, with less watering to avoid rot?

How quickly will the bulbs begin to rot in ‘wet’ soil?

OBJECTIVE
I know many of you may think I’m nuts and I may eventually need to concede defeat when I have little more than sad pots of mush in the spring but I’d really like to be able to have early spring flowering tulips on my balcony and I’m trying to force some too.

BACKGROUND
I have read, re-read, made notes, and read again, almost everything I can put my hands on about tulips in containers, tulips for forcing. Forcing tulips is fairly well covered and I think I’m ok with that but I’m also trying to simply grow spring tulips (and a few other bulbs) in containers and when it comes to tulips in containers on balconies, the instructions become a little more superficial, and sometimes completely contrary.

TULIP TYPES
I selected tulip types indicating they are ok in containers including for example some Greigii/Oriental Beauty, mini botanicals, Mickey Mouses, etc. Princess Irene is probably the only one that I’ve got that’s supposed bloom later in the spring.

SOIL
Since tulips need well draining but rich soil, and I have a worm bin, I’ve mixed equal parts of old potting soil, humus from the worm bin, and sand, and then add a bit of bulb booster to the whole mix.

‘FREEZING’
Everything I’ve read says the tulips shouldn’t freeze but the reality is that when it hits
–20, the ones in the ground WILL freeze solid. Various people, including Sheridan Nurseries staff noted this. Moreover, I’ve read of some tulip lovers, and a local grower insist that tulips can be forced by putting the bulbs in the freezer – despite the insistence by all the experts that you absolutely must not do this. I’ll let you know what happens in March with my experimental ‘freezer pot’ of tulips.

So I can only assume that its not freezing per se but, as with many other plants, the freeze-thaw cycle that’s damaging to bulbs.

POTTED UP & WATERED
I potted them all up two weeks ago now and watered well as all the experts advise. I mostly planted them more shallowly than you would in the ground.

Since the bulbs aren’t supposed to sit in ‘wet’ soil, I left them all out to dry up a bit. However when the cold snap hit here in the GTA this past week, I rushed to put them into protection though the pots had frozen a bit, I think particularly because the soil was still quite moist.

Right now my question is about the level of moisture, I’m worried the soil is more ‘wet’ then ‘moist’. The books don’t really address this too well, essentially they say pot up, water well and store in a dark cold place.

It doesn’t help that I got a little carried away and have more tulips, and other spring bulbs, than I should have for what is really an experiment, so I’ve got a lot at stake.

CURRENT QUESTIONS
How do I tell if the soil is too moist to store the tulips back into their ‘winter shelter’ (see below)?

Should I continue to dry out the soil by leaving them in the sun for the next day or two? There’s rain and snow in the forecast for Tuesday though. Bringing them inside to dry out probably isn’t a good idea because its too warm. Should I not risk rotting and repot them in fresh potting soil? and less water?

How quickly will the bulbs begin to spoil in the ‘wet’ soil?

Perhaps my soil mix has retained too much moisture and that’s why in over a week outside, they hadn’t dried up. However, I potted up some daffs a couple of weeks earlier than the tulips, in the plain old potting soil. I also “watered wellâ€
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Postby Ian » Nov 25, 2007 2:17 pm

Hi seacat,

Don't worry too much about whether they are too wet.
The most important thing is to keep them in a cold, dark environment for at least 16 weeks. It is also important to keep the pots from freezing and thawing over and over.....so you have to insulate the pots with covers, burlap or other materials to stop a rapid thaw or freeze.
Put them in the shaddiest part of your balcony and cover them well. Check them in a month for moisture, so they don't dry out.

Ian
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Postby Island Dar » Nov 25, 2007 2:21 pm

I'm certainly no expert and I'm sure you will get some great advice or opinions soon but just have to say I think you have covered well all "the bases" :D Not sure what zone you are in and I maybe a lot warmer at zone 7 but I too pot up tulips every year. I just plant them 3x their size in depth, water normally, (as long as they have good drainage should be no problem) and then cover with a leaf mulch. I put the pots under the eaves or under shrubs where I know they won't receive too much direct rain (cause on the coast here, pots can definitely be floating before you know it :lol: ) I figure the leaf mulch lets some moisture in but at the same time helps to have a little barrier. I check them every month and sometimes the pots appear frozen but hasn't stopped them from blooming in the spring. I haven't had to add any further water and I just pull them out of their "hibernation" when I see green peaking out from the mulch and then slowly pull the mulch away if the weather is cooperating.
I wish you all the best with yours.
Happy Gardening. . .Dar
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Postby haili » Nov 25, 2007 4:32 pm

When I've grown tulips in containers I just put them in the back of the garage, watered and put a newspaper loosely on top. Didn't bother to water them for months as they stay pretty damp in the cold. Check them in Feb. or Mar. When the weather got sunnier and I saw shoots, probably late March, early April, I put them outside and they did well.

I have also tried planting them in a half barrel and about half of the time they rot - the other times I've had good luck and they were beautiful. It must depend on the winter. Didn't plant any in the barrel this year as last year it was a waste of money - they rotted - leaves came up but no bloom and the bulbs had gone mushy.
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Postby seacat » Nov 26, 2007 8:18 pm

Ian wrote:Hi seacat,

Don't worry too much about whether they are too wet.
The most important thing is to keep them in a cold, dark environment for at least 16 weeks. It is also important to keep the pots from freezing and thawing over and over.....so you have to insulate the pots with covers, burlap or other materials to stop a rapid thaw or freeze.
Put them in the shaddiest part of your balcony and cover them well. Check them in a month for moisture, so they don't dry out.

Ian


Tx everyone.

Island Dar: I'm basically in Toronto - I believe the zone is 6b, I'll try to add to profile. I'm not sure you have the extreme freeze-thaw to worry about out there that happens here.

So Ian, you're saying that on top of the leaves, cardboard boxes, tarp, etc. that I should also wrap in burlap. OK. I've got a big piece I bought sort of for this purpose. I'll throw it over all the pots. I'll put some bubble wrap I have beneath them too.
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tulips in a container...outside on a balcony

Postby Jeannie » Dec 01, 2007 11:03 pm

I've got to play the Devil's Disciple here and suggest how you are attempting to bring to bloom the tulip in a container on a balcony you are bound to not succeed.

Let's look at the disadvantages and try to make them work.

First, the weather on your balcony....wind is the main culprit. Wind will dry out the soil quicker than .....anything.
The soil.....hopefully drains well. That speaks for a potting soil or soiless mix that has something between it and the drainge holes so that water does not collect around the roots...the roots when they develop.

As far as temperature....tulips, once they develop roots can take minus 40.....Celsius or Fahrenheit.....the same thing.
So speaking about temperatures above that, they shrug off.

Watering. The pot must drain...and soil is kept moist..never wet.
So that speaks for watering only when it is necessary.
The container to drain properly should be UP off the floor. Four bricks or pieces of wood placed ...n.....e....w.....s....will do fine.
Water then will run away and not collect under the pot where it could freeze and rot the bottom out.

Wind....the container should have been thought to be insulated prior to planting the bulbs. Insulation can be done by putting styrofoam or bubble wrap on the insides of the container...before the soil was added.
This would have prevented the soil to freeze.
There would be no freez/thaw cycle to worry about.
Also, to deflect the sun....even in winter, sunlight can increase the temperature of the soil if not prevented from doing so.
The container could be wrapped in aluminum foil....bright side out.

The container would then be given protection from wind. On the 8th floor, I cant see wind not being a problem.
A barrier can be erected if the container is in such a place on the balcony that would be buffeted by wind. Chairs placed around the container...the chairs being wrapped with burlap or something similar.

The bulbs would be put into the soil---flat side out...with at least an inch of soil over them.
The bulbs, to prevent the soil under them from compacting too much, they would be placed into a hole made prior to.
They should not be pressed into soil which can compact the soil under them too much.

They must have sufficient time to develop roots....i.e. 12 - 16 weeks prior to any temperatures that would freeze their butts off.
Once roots are developed, there's no need to worry about temperatures going down too far.
Then they are watered only to keep them damp.

It does seem to me that how you have watered them....and you admit they are proably too wet.....they will not do anything this season.
If they are indeed wet....chances are they have already begun to rot.

If the soil does drain well, there's a chance the wetness is not around the bulbs....but only on the surface of the soil.
Taking them out to let them dry out in the sun....that's the last thing you should have done. Better to have lifted them, thrown the soil out and replaced them with fresh potting soil and seeing to the container draining better.
Then proper watering habits to be followed.

Here it is early December.....the heavy frosts are with us to stay...I'm afraid your tulips have no chance of survival this year if they have not gotten their roots yet.

Better, if you can find a garden bed to put them in.....do that. the soil in such a bed probably can still be dug into. Down 8", the soil is probably warm enough to still develop roots before that layer too feels the cold.

In any case, as I see it, that's your only hope.....that, and trying to force them as well.
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Postby Eeyore » Dec 02, 2007 2:42 am

I think you've done what you can do and if you follow Ian's advice and insulate the pots from the rapid freeze/thaw cycles, you can't do anything else. Balcony container gardening is like any other gardening. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It's always a gamble and the best you can hope for is a full house.
I had a beautiful row of Cedars along my west fence; protected from the elements, well watered and obviously healthy. After several years of drought (my cedars were in the best possible environments and conditons) I lost all 4 in one winter. It was a particularily rough winter and a lot of people lost their Cedars and Birches. After continued drought and adverse conditions for several years they just quit. It's always a gamble.
If you can coax tulips in a balcony garden, you are doing well. But you must always think of any kind of container gardening as a gamble. Sometimes it pays and sometimes it doesn't.
Lyn
AB, Zone 3A
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Postby seacat » Dec 17, 2007 10:08 pm

Jeannie,

Thank you for the long reply-post and for noting that tulips require roots in order to withstand the cold. I haven't read that specific fact anywhere and wish like heck I had known before.

I was afraid to plant them too early since we'd had such warm weather here till late Oct but I was probably also getting a bit confused with the requirements for forcing, which I've also done with a few bulbs and which requires me to wait to pot up till the temps drop to 10C or less. So I waited and of course then temps dropped dramatically and quite quickly.

Next year I'll know better.

Seacat
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More questions on forcing

Postby prairiebound » Dec 20, 2007 12:31 pm

I too read about forcing bulbs and as per the instructions, put some tulips and hyacinth in pots in the fridge--covered with plastic with some holes punched for air. Anyone had success with this?? At the end of December they'll only have been in there for 7 weeks, yet they're almost all sprouting already!!

Because they're sprouting (only about 0.5 to 1 cm so far) should I take them out now even though it's so early?

Also, I've noticed some of them have mold growing on them; I've been going in and trying to wipe/scrape it off every week or 2. Should you just the bulbs with fungicide before trying to force them this way?
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Postby Pansy » Dec 21, 2007 12:10 am

Prairiebound...I usually just put the pot of bulbs in the frig,

but no plastic on it.The plastic may keep the soil to damp for

bulbs.The only problem I ever encountered is a heaving of

the bulbs as the roots get big.All I do at this time is gentle

push them back down in the soil.
Pansy
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