overwintering my bulbs in containers - how?

rinakayJuly 31, 2005

Hi all!

I'm new to gardening and am getting addicted to them! I have a few questions though, on how to overwinter my lilies and tulips in pots - I'm a balcony gardener.

I know in zone 6 the winters can be pretty brutal. Should I put my bulbs in bigger pots - and maybe the types of pots should be taken into consideration also? My apartment is small, so it would be great if I could just leave them outside on my balcony instead of having to bring them in. I DO have a locker in the building, and I was wondering if it'd be too stupid of a thing to try - to leave the bulbs in a pot there? It'd be freezing still, but at least no threat from the snow... If so, do I need to water them once in a while? Or you think they'd be okay there on their own?

God... feel like these are such silly questions, but I've spent quite a sum on these bulbs this year and would like to be able to get them to bloom again next year. HELP!!

Thanks a bunch!


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Judy_B_ON(Ontario 5B)

It is a very tricky thing to get anything to live through a winter in a container. The containers will freeze solid and are subject to multiple freeze/thaw cycles which will damage the bulbs. Snow is a benefit, as it insulates the container. Covering the containers with 6" of straw might work

You could lift the lily bulbs, dry them out and store them in a cool dark place (bag in fridge?) then replant in early spring. The tulips can also be lifted, planted in a shallow wide pot placed in a plastic bag stored in the fridge over winter and then carefully replanted, roots and all in the spring.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2005 at 11:25AM
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I have a similar new-gardener question.

I ordered a bunch of tulip bulbs to plant this fall and I had intended to plant them in my window boxes. But since I've learned that overwintering in window boxes is a bad idea, I was wondering if I should plant them at all this fall.

Should I just hold on to them in my basement and try to plant them out in the window boxes come February (if I can work the frozen soil!).

Or, I also have a 3-season sun porch where I could try to grow them in pots (they would get very cold but not quite as cold as the outdoor temperatures and they be totally protected from the snow), Could that work and then I could transplant them in to the flower boxes come March/April-ish.

Suggestions? Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2005 at 9:48AM
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casper1(5/6- -10F Ont)

I have had success with bulbs bought late in the season by planting them in 1&2 gallon pots. I line the pots with several sheets of newspaper,you need several layers,fill with soil, plant the bulbs,and put pots outside under the snow,or heal them in. In the spring when they begin to sprout Iplant the contents of the pots where I want them,the newspaper lining will hold it all together. Don't forget to label the pots. Rai

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 8:43AM
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roadtrip(z6 OH)

I've never had success with overwintering bulbs in containers. In fact I was given many (100+) bulbs this spring that were starting to sprout out. I didn't have room for them in the garden and popped them into containers. I had lovely daffs and tulips untill late spring in the containers, but this fall I started digging around in the pots to see about planting them up in the new beds this fall. Many of thet bulbs had rotted just over the summer. It may have had something to do with the hot/dry summer we had, but from now on I'm just doing to plant my bulbs in the ground.

At least the bulbs didn't cost me a dime!


    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 9:35AM
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I have reservations on a number of fronts about keeping bulbs outside, but not in the ground.

Let's first examine what happens to a bulb once it goes into the ground.

First it makes roots....it has to have roots to survive the cold. No roots, no bulb.
Then, in the ground, we water it to encourage development.
Once it has roots, nothing short of a North Pole winter could do them in.....and even then.

In a pot, watered, it would surely have to promote its roots before the pot freezes solid...and any water in there would expand and undoubtedly break the pot.
Hence, it can be started out of doors, then taken into a sheltered location....an unheat garage or shed, where it is given water minimally. It is not allowed to be subjected to below freezing temperatures.
Otherwise, a bulb, not planted in the ground, has to go into an environment where the temperautre is between 35 and 50 F.... Bulbs can be kept in such environment for many months. But since it is a spring flowering bulb, what then?

The best place to put such a bulb is in the ground.

Rin....if your storage bin is not heated, and you can ensure the bulb doesn't freeze, it could very well be stored there. But what for? They're spring flowering bulbs and have to develop roots before they can be expected to produce foliage and flowers.
If YOU cant put them into the ground, why not ask one of your neighbors...one of your HOUSE neighbors to put them into the ground for you and then, next spring, when they come up, you have permission then to dig them up and put them into pots. Mind you, that would have to be done ever so carefully.

Riff, why not plan on planting them yourself into the ground. Let's suppose your window box is 6" deep. Tulips are regularly planted at the 8" level.
How can you expect an 8" depth bulb to be transplanted to a window box that is only 6" deep.

Leave them in the ground and plan on something else for your window box.
Now there are mini tulips, I've never planted one, so I suppose you could buy such and maybe plant them in your window box. I suggest you ask your local nurseryman if they have such bulbs. There are any number of smallish bulbs that might be used instead of tulips.
But they would still have to be planted in the ground in order to develop their roots.

And all this at the expense of not even considering "forcing". Forcing bulbs, especially if you've got too many, is a way to have blooms over Christmas and if done .....say every two weeks, you could have bloom right on thru April.
But, you'd need that refrigerator to cool them for up to 17 weeks.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2005 at 5:53PM
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This is a bit of an old thread, but I wanted to weigh in. I live in a condo in Boston with no garage or other "unheated basement" type storage in which to overwinter bulbs. I've successfully overwintered tulips and daffodil bulbs in pots two years running now. This winter was relatively mild, with two weeks or so of single-digit temps. However last winter was brutal, so I feel like I have a pretty good method. I have a few cedar windowboxes that are 8 inches deep, which I plant with bulbs in a potting mix with a high ratio of sand or other material to encourage drainage. I have also occasionally used rockwool on the bottom of the boxes for this same purpose. In any case, I have a sunken patio area, and I tuck the boxes against a concrete wall beneath the stairs, so that they are sheltered and shaded. I get them started in Oct-November usually, so they have time to set roots. Then I wait until freezing temps subside to bring them out of storage, when they usually have little green tips poking their way out of the soil. Success. I think that the key is keeping them against a large thermal mass (the wall) that does not get full sun- so the temps stay fairly constant, they don't keep freezing-and-thawing. I experimented last year with a couple of pots that I insulated with bubble wrap and then covered with fir branches, which I left by my doorstep (which gets a half day's full sun). Almost none of the bulbs in those pots made it, although the ones beneath the stairs were stunning. I also have some bulbs potted up in larger containers (ringing potted lilacs) and they are also up. yayy!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 4:07PM
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Nancy Kessler

I have a question that refers to this. I'm just bumping this thread instead of adding another one.

I am in zone 5b/6a. I have some bulbs which are hardy to zones 7 or 8 only. Obviously, they're early summer growing bulbs and they enjoy the summer. However, I can't let them overwinter outside. They're currently in pots. Can I just bring the pots inside and put them in the basement for the winter and bring them out again for the spring/after the threat of frost is gone?

Should I water them at all over the winter?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 5:11PM
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