Gardening: Strategies to keeping bulbs safe in winter

November 9, 2017 GMT

For many gardeners, planting spring flowering bulbs is a daunting leap of faith because these lifeless looking bulbs must be planted in our bone-chilling fall weather. And other than daffodils and alliums that are shunned by deer and other animals, those gorgeous tulips and many other bulbs planted in the ground are often eaten long before they bloom.

The December edition of Fine Gardening magazine ( features a great article by Irvine Etienne, the horticulture display director at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, showing how he produces fabulous spring flowering containers that make planting and pest control a snap. Irvine’s secret is planting tulips and a variety of bulbs in large pots and overwintering them outdoors in protected areas under layers of mulch. To keep the animals at bay, he sprinkles PlantSkydd granules ( over the surface of the soil in the pots and the protective mulch. I would go a step further and cover the pots with sheets of hardware cloths weighed down by stones or chunks of lumber.

Irvin checks the plantings weekly in spring and when the bulbs show a couple of inches of growth he moves them into large containers so the pots sit about an inch below the rim, backfills the spaces around the pots of bulbs and mulches the top of the pots. Pansies are favorites for filling in any empty spaces around the edges, also tucking in colorful kales, lettuces and Heucheras, as well as twigs add to interest and extend the life of the show.

Another secret to adding and extending color is to mix the kinds of bulbs and bloom period. By including early, mid- and late-blooming varieties the bloom period can go on from early to mid spring or even later, depending on the weather. Minor bulbs such as grape hyacinth planted at the top of the pot add another accent of color.

To view a raft of how-to tutorials on line, Google “Spring Bulb Container Planting.”

Another good reason to plant tulips now is their petals are edible and can add dazzling color to a spring menu. Cut the center parts out of the flowers — the stamens and pistils, and use the colorful petals as holders for butter, strawberry mousse and dips.

Spring flowering bulbs are still available for planting at many independent garden centers or may be ordered online from mail-order houses including Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,, and John Scheepers Inc. at

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at