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Planting tulips in pots

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Tulip El Nino
Tulip El Nino

Got cold, wet soil? No problem!

Big showy tulips don’t do well in my garden’s clay soil, so it’s pointless to even try. It’s not that it’s over wet, as I live in a relatively dry part of the country – it’s just so slow to warm up in spring.

By far the best thing to do is plant ‘bedding’ tulips in pots. Ordinary multipurpose compost will do fine and as it’s a case of diminishing returns with most tulips, you’ll only get a good show for one season.

(If you object to this wanton waste, try growing species tulips, which naturalise and their shows get better over time – see types and growing instructions here. Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii and their hybrids often re-flower.)

You can plant them in November, in fact, it’s best to if your area suffers from a virus called tulip fire – the colder temperatures will kill it off.

Ignore traditional spacing guidelines, and place the bulbs in a tight circular pattern. Cover with compost, planting them at the same depth you would normally, approximately two to three times the bulb’s height.

If you’ve got a big pot, you can be really flash and double or triple up for a longer display – plant the earliest bulbs at the bottom, mid-season next, then late varieties on top. Make sure there’s compost between each layer and water in when you’re done.

You might need to water the pots in spring if there’s a dry spell but apart from that, they’re pretty maintenance free.

I find closely planting bulbs into 6″ black plastic pots are helpful – they fill in any obvious gaps in the border without the pots being obtrusive.

You can grow them on in full sun and sheltered conditions until ready to flower, then move them to semi-shaded spots, etc, until they have finished flowering.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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