Plant Flower Bulbs For Beautiful Container Gardening

As a group,flower bulbs are outstanding plants colorful, showy, and generally easy to grow for container gardening. Many have evergreen foliage; with others, the leaves ripen after flowering and the bulbs are stored and started again, year after year. Some flower bulbs are hardy, others, tender, though what is, and is not hardy, in a particular area is a matter of winter temperature averages. In cold regions, tender tuberous begonias, gloxinias, and calla lilies can be treated like summer in container gardens. This gives the gardener a wide variety to grow from earliest spring to late fall.

Dutch flower bulbs include crocus, snowdrops, eranthis or winter aconites, chionodoxas, scillas, grape hyacinths, leucojums or snowflakes, Dutch hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips, the pride of northern spring gardens. Though hardy, they are not adapted to garden containers outdoors where temperatures drop much below freezing. They require the protection of a shed, unheated cellar or cold frame. Gardening Pots can also be dug into a trench in the ground for the winter and covered with a thick blanket of marsh hay or straw. Where temperatures do not go below freezing, Dutch flower bulbs can be left outdoors in gardening pots over the winter.

For best results in a container garden, start with fresh, firm, large-sized flower bulbs each fall. Insure good drainage in the bottom of each garden pot and use a light soil with bone meal added. If in clay pots, plunge during the rooting period in damp peat moss to prevent rapid drying out. If this occurs too often, roots will be injured and flowers will be poor. When weather permits, after the danger of freezing passes, put your container garden outside where they are to flower or in a nursery row until they reach the bud stage. After blooming, move your container garden where foliage can ripen unseen.

For fragrance, concentrate on Dutch hyacinths, excellent for bedding large planter boxes or raised beds. Daffodils look well grouped around trees or large shrubs, as birches and forsythias. Tulips, formal in character, combine delightfully with pansies, violas, wall flowers, forget-me-nots, marguerites, English daisies, and annual candytuft in container gardens.

As already indicated, in cold areas, Dutch flower bulbs cannot be potted or planted in small window boxes and left outdoors unprotected for the winter. They can, however, be set out in large planters and boxes, deep and wide enough to contain plenty of soil. The garden pots should be one and a half to two feet deep and about two feet wide. Set flower bulbs, with at least six inches of soil above them, planting them early enough in the fall so that they can make root growth before soil freezes hard. In penthouse gardens in New York City, Dutch bulbs have been grown successfully in this way, but it is always a risk. It makes no difference whether garden pots are made of wood, concrete, or other material; it is the amount of soil they hold that counts.

Actually, it is not the freezing of the soil that injures flower bulbs (this occurs in open ground), but it is the pressure and counter pressure exerted by frost on the sides of containers, which are firm and do not give. As a result, flower bulbs are bruised and thrust out of the soil, their roots torn. Where there is no hard freeze, but sufficient cold weather, hardy flower bulbs can be grown successfully in garden containers of small size.

Here is a partial list of flower bulbs that thrive in container gardens. They will help you with your container garden design

Achimenes are warmth-loving trailing plants with neat leaves and tubular flowers in blue, lavender, red and white. Related to gloxinias and African violets, they are nice in hanging baskets and window boxes or in garden pots on tables, shelves, or wall brackets. Start the small tubers indoors and give plants a sheltered spot with protection from strong sun and wind. Achimenes, an old standby in the South, is worthy of more frequent planting.

Agapanthus or Blue Lily of the Nile is a fleshy-rooted evergreen plant, with strap leaves, often grown in tubs and urns on terraces and steps during the summer, when the tall blue spikes unfold. Culture is easy, but plants require a well-lighted, frost proof room or greenhouse in winter. This is an old-time favorite, often seen in the gardens of Europe. It is a perfect flower bulb for container gardening.

The Calla Lily is Showy, and outdoors in warmer regions, but a tender pot plant in the North. Most familiar is the white one with large, shiny, heart-shaped leaves. Start bulbs indoors in February or March in rich soil and, when weather settles, transfer to large gardening pots and take outdoors. Calla lilies do well in full sun or part shade, are heavy feeders and need much water. There is also a dainty yellow one with white-spotted leaves. Rest your flower bulbs after foliage ripens and grow again.

Colorful and free-flowering Dahlias provide bounteous cut blooms. Tall, large-flowering kinds can be grown only in large planters and boxes, but the dwarfs, even freer flowering, are excellent in small garden containers. Attaining one to two feet tall, they grow easily from tubers in average soil in sun or part shade. They may also be raised from seed sown indoors in February. If tubers are stored in peat or sand in a cool, frost proof place, they can be grown for years. Check bulbs during winter, and if shriveling, sprinkle lightly.

Gladiolus, the summer-flowering plant has spear like leaves and many hued spikes. Corms can be planted in garden containers outdoors after danger of frost is passed. Set them six inches apart and four to six inches deep. The best way to use these in container gardening is to planting a few every two to three weeks, giving you a succession of bloom in your container garden. Stake stems before flowers open. After the leaves turn brown, or there is a frost, lift corms, cut off foliage and dust with DDT to control the tiny sucking thrips. After dusting, store corms in a dry place at 45 to 55 degrees F for future planting.

Gloxinias, another Summer-flowering plant and tender with large, tubular blooms of red, pink, lavender, purple, or white, and broad velvety rosettes of leaves. Start tubers indoors and don’t take outside until weather is warm. Since the leaves are easily broken or injured by wind or rain, put plants in a sheltered spot. The low broad eaves of contemporary houses, with restricted sun, offer an appropriate setting for rows of pots or window boxes filled with gay gloxinias.

Now you have some great ideas for your container garden design. It’s time now to start planting your flower bulbs.

Happy Container Gardening!

Copyright © 2006 Mary Hanna All Rights Reserved.

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Brian Minter: Plants to support important pollinators

Camellias are a great source of nectar and pollen.

Even with the world in turmoil, nature simply carries on providing the normal progression of colour and beauty.

As our birds return and we see hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators back in our gardens, we really need to support them by providing nectar- and pollen-producing plants that open in sequence all through the seasons.

Because much of their habitat has been lost mainly through development, I think it is vital to add more pollinator-attracting plants into our gardens, especially those that begin their blooming cycle early in the season.

In coastal areas, once the temperature hits 10 C, the bees are out, and depending on the species, they are searching for both nectar and pollen.

 Heathers are bee magnets.

Last week, I was trying to pick out a few winter-flowering heathers, and I was delighted to see them smothered with bees. Not only do heathers provide colour from late October until late April in zone 6 regions, but they also produce both nectar and pollen for our bees. If pollination of your early-flowering fruit trees and small fruits is a concern, planting these winter beauties is a great solution because they attract bees to your garden.

Winter-flowering camellias (C. sasanqua, zone 7) have also been in bloom since November, and they will continue flowering well into April.

I recently noticed that both bees and Anna’s hummingbirds were attracted to them, especially to the brighter coloured blooms. As the early-flowering Camellia japonicas begin to open, they, too, will be a great source of nectar and pollen.

 Camellias are a great source of nectar and pollen.

The soft pink blossoms of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’ (zone 6) have also been supplying winter colour since November, and will continue to do so until late April.  This remarkable plant may not be as much a bee attractor as other varieties, but it certainly still attracts some.

A very old variety of flowering cherry, Prunus ‘Autumnalis’ (zone 5), with its soft pink single blooms, puts out colour from November well into April.

Some brilliant folks with Vancouver Parks planted them on Nanaimo Street, just south of First Avenue, and what a treat they have been for the people who live in that area, and for pollinators.

Cornus mas is a unique dogwood that is, unfortunately, seldom seen in today’s gardens. It is blooming now with tiny yellow blossoms that look very much like witch hazel flowers.

Similar in size to Cornus florida, its early blossoms attract pollinators. Once fertilized, the blossoms turn into edible fruits that look like cherries. As an added bonus, its fall foliage colour is stunning.

Speaking of witch hazels, the hamamelis family (zone 6) is still in bloom, and the selection of varieties today is amazing from shades of yellow, orange and red to amethyst. I prefer the yellow varieties for their delightful perfume, and pollinators like them for their nectar.

 Hummingbirds love King Edward VII flowering currant.

The starting gun for hummingbird season is the red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ (zone 6). Depending on winter temperatures, its long, drooping flowers will begin blooming later in April, and they are hummingbird magnets.

This variety is fairly shade tolerant, allowing for more versatility in planting sites. In colder areas, the native alpine currant Ribes alpinum is hardy to zone 2.  It’s a must have for anyone wanting to introduce more native plants into a garden.

Flowering quince are just about to open. Chaenomeles (zone 6), with their vibrant red, pink or white blooms, are particularly loved by pollinators.  I like to espalier them against a wall or fence for a spectacular look year-round, but especially so once the apple-like fruits form in summer.

Kerria japonica (zone 5), with their single or double yellow flowers are just budding up and will provide a vibrant April and May pop of colour.  They, too, are on the hot list for pollinator favourites.

As the seasons progress, many more flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals and trees will be producing both nectar and pollen, but it’s now, early in the year, when it is most important to have some of these plants in our gardens to help sustain emerging populations of pollinators.

As the blossoms of our small fruits and fruit trees begin to open, we will appreciate the role pollinators play and the hard work they do to provide us with fruit.

There are still mason bees available.  So, if you can, introduce them into your garden as well.

With many stores closed at this time, it may not be possible to get these amazing plants until later in the season, but consider finding a spot for them, both for their beauty and for their nectar and pollen.


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Brian Minter: How to bring ‘True Blue’ into our gardens

Veronica Moody Blues Dark Blue.

Classic Blue is Pantone’s Colour of the Year for 2020, and indigo is one of this season’s most winning shades. Although blue is one of the most sought-after colours for gardens, surprisingly, it can be one of the more difficult colours to find.

Indigo, always recognized as one of the seven colours of the spectrum, is borderline between blue and violet. A richly saturated colour, indigo has a long history of being indicative of wealth and prestige. From early Mesopotamian and Roman times to Indian and West African cultures, cloth and clothes dyed with indigo were highly prized.

 Black and Bloom Salvia

The indigo plant was a source of early dyes, and with today’s renewed interest in organic dyes, indigo is making a comeback, both in interior design and fashion. It’s a colour that can be stimulating as well as calming, depending on how it is used.

In the garden world, not many annuals have a rich blue colour. Dark blue salvias, such as Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution Violet,’ could be the closest you will find. ‘Evolution Violet’ is very heat and drought tolerant and is an All-American Selections and Fleuroselect award winner. Another new, much larger salvia is an interspecific annual named S. ‘Big Blue.’ It grows 61 to 91 centimetres, is very weather tolerant, has a long bloom period and attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators.

 Blue Marvel Salvia

Vibrant purple-blue violas and pansies are the earliest and latest to flower. Matrix ‘Deep Blue Blotch’ and ‘Denim’ pansies are stunning, especially when contrasted with whites, soft primroses or pinks.

For blue flowers that are fragrant, it’s hard to beat heliotrope . The sweetly perfumed H. ‘Sachet’ has the most intense blue blooms.

Early in the season, before the summer heat sets in, deep blue lobelias, like ‘Regatta Marine Blue,’ Regatta Midnight Blue’ and ‘Regatta Sapphire,’ provide stunning hues that look great in both containers and hanging baskets.

Whether planted in the ground or in containers and baskets, all varieties and sizes of petunias are some of the longest-flowering summer annuals that can carry a rich indigo colour during the intensity of hot summer days. Blue petunias also have a soft perfume that often attracts pollinators.

 Magadi Blue + Eye Lobelia

In the perennial world, many varieties of lavender, like ‘Ellagance Purple,’ ‘Lavance Deep Purple’ and the new ‘Blue Spear,’ provide vivid blues.

For longer colour in the summertime, perennial salvias are certainly coming into their own, especially with the new, longer-blooming and repeat-blooming varieties . Many series are now more compact as well. The ‘Fashionista,’ ‘Bumble,’ ‘Color Spires’ and ‘Profusion’ series all contain varieties that provide strong indigo colours. Like lavender, they are all pollinator magnets.

Nepeta, too, is growing in popularity because of its new, improved longer-blooming habit. Proven Winners’ ‘Cat’s Meow’ and ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ are just two of these exciting must-have varieties.

From deep blue geraniums, Siberian iris and late-blooming asters to rich lupins and lovely delphiniums, they all add a seasonal punch of indigo in our gardens.

Whether it’s the colour of the year or not, indigo is always an inspired choice to add interest to our gardens.


Rose Gardening Tasks for Early Spring

Rose Gardening Tasks for Early Spring
Rose Gardening Tasks forEarly Spring

When should you start preparing your rose garden for the onset of spring and summer? Well, if you live in an area where you can start seeing the promise of spring in late March or early April, then you’re an “early spring” rose gardener. However, if you live where March and April still brings icy rain and snow, then just keep waiting out old man winter until your turn at spring arrives and then follow the tips in this article.

Early spring is a time of great activity in the rose garden as you prepare for the beautiful buds that will be sprouting almost any day. Here’s a summary of what needs to be done in order to prepare your roses for the tough growing season that lies ahead.

If you covered your roses with dirt or mulch, your first step is to gently remove the protective materials so you can introduce your dormant bushes to the warming spring sun and rains that lie ahead.

Before beginning your spring pruning activities, cut back any dead and damaged canes that did not survive the winter. Be sure to clear away any debris and residue from around the bushes as well.

Prepare the soil to nurture your plants by adding some organic compounds. You can either buy pre-packaged organics from your favorite garden supplier, or you can mix up your own recipe using composted manure or mushroom compost, or any of the usual meal blends which can include alfalfa, cottonseed, fish or blood meal. See below for some suggestions.

Work your soil with a spade or hoe if it has become too compacted during the winter or if you notice standing water after watering your plants. Roses require well-drained soil to thrive.

After soil preparation is done you can plant any new additions to your garden including container grown roses.

Next it is time to begin your fungicide spraying regiment either immediately or, if you prefer to wait, approximately 14 days after you complete your pruning. Opinions on the best time differ. The choice is yours.

Remember to rotate through different fungicides during the year to prevent any fungi from becoming immune to any one product.

Don’t use any pesticides unless you see evidence of damage, but remember to keep a sharp eye out for aphids which are as much a sign of spring as April showers are. Hit them with a blast of water to remove them, or apply insecticide in a mister to the affected areas.

Imagine how hungry you’d be if you just woke up from a long winter hibernation! Well, your Roses are hungry too. The best way to coax them from dormancy to budding is to feed them now and every other week through the remainder of the growing season. Water well after feeding! Feed with a fertilizer balanced for Nitrogen (N), Phosphates (P2O5) and Potash (K2O). Nitrogen stimulates the growth of leaves and canes and increases the size of the bush. Phosphate stimulates the growth of roots, canes and
stems and speeds up flowering. Potash stimulates the production of top quality blooms and improves the drought and disease resistance of the plant. A good balanced fertilizer with these elements is 10-10-10.

Another popular spring fertilizer is Osmocote which is a controlled release fertilizer that releases nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium depending on soil temperature. The 18-6-12 (8 to 9 month term) formulation is recommended for this area. Osmocote is also available with trace elements added in a product with the name of Sierra 17-6-10 Plus Minors Controlled Release Fertilizer

There! Your rose garden is ready for spring, but remember your work is far from over. If spring is near then summer can’t be far behind. Read our summer article at to learn how
to prepare your roses for the coming summer heat.

Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener

Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener
Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener

Planting a backyard garden can be a fun and rewarding experience if you approach the planning and preparations aspect of gardening in the right way  but a lack of planning and preparation can cause your hard work in the hot summer months to yield mediocre results (if any) at the end of the growing season.

Perhaps somewhere in the world, the key to successful gardening is simply dropping a handful of seeds into the ground and watching them spring up. But most garden soils require careful attention and preparation.

Choosing a Plot
A common mistake among beginning and experienced gardeners alike is to plant more than they can possibly care for. A successful vegetable garden plot does not need to be big. A small, well-tended garden will grow as much or more produce than a larger one that the owner cannot keep up with.

Backyard gardeners should choose a sunny spot where water is readily available. Most vegetables do best in full sun if possible, but at a minimum, your garden should get at least 6 hours of sun a day.

Try to select a spot with good, rich soil. Good garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, well drained, rich in organic material and has a neutral pH. The ideal garden soil composition is about 5% organic matter, 25% air, 25% water, and 45% mineral matter. If you are planting a garden in a desert area with naturally not fertile soil, plan on working to improve the soil that is there.

Prepare your soil
Although organic material is only 5% of the ìideal formulaî for good growing soil, applying the right organic matter to your soil can make worlds of difference.

Nearly all soils, whether clay, sandy or humus, benefit from the addition of organic matter. Spread a layer of organic matter two to three inches thick over the soil surface and incorporate it six to eight inches deep. Organic matter breaks up clay allowing for air and water circulation, and helps hold water in sandy soils. Good sources of organic matter include straw, twigs, leaves, peat moss, sawdust, grass clippings and well-rotted manure.

Organic matter will tie up nitrogen as it decays. Add nitrogen fertilizer to the organic matter to aid in the decomposition process. This addition of nitrogen is not intended to aid future plant growth, but to act as a facilitator to help in decomposition. More nitrogen fertilizer will be required when you begin planting. Youíll want to use one pound of ammonium sulfate, or 2/3 pound of ammonium nitrate, or Ω pound of urea for each inch of organic matter placed on one hundred square feet of soil. As a word of caution, if you are using well-rotted manure for organic matter, reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer you apply by one half.

Finally, before you are ready to plant, the soil should be tilled thoroughly. Tilling breaks up hard soil and allows air to circulate around the roots of your plants. Us a tiller, shovel or fork to churn the soil at least eight inches deep. Do not try to till your soil too early in the spring before the soil has had a chance to dry out a bit. Tilling muddy soil only causes mud clods that choke tender roots of needed air and water.

Once your soil is ready, consult your local extension or the back of your seed packets for the proper time to plant your garden fruits and vegetables.

By following these simple preparatory steps before you plant, you will increase your chances of having a bountiful harvest at the end of the growing season. Good luck and happy gardening!

Ten Simple Steps to Taking Cuttings

Taking Cuttings
Taking Cuttings

There are several different types of cuttings that you can take from plants the most common are softwood, semi-ripe and hardwood. These refer to how woody and therefore how old the plant stem is.

Softwood cuttings are taken from the youngest part of the stem, and are the easiest and quickest to take root. This makes them ideal for anyone trying this for the first time.

Softwood cuttings are taken in May and June from the new growth of the plant. They root easily between 4 and 8 weeks but can wilt and die if they lose too much moisture, so they have to be kept warm and moist. And the best way to do this, if you donít have a propagator, is to put the pot inside a polythene bag.