Avoid these common mistakes when planting tulips

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Tulips are my favourite spring bulb. I love their big statement colours. They're even beautiful when they're going over, with their operatic drooping stems. And the choice! Every year I dither over whether to go for dramatic circus-tent stripes, romantic shades of pink, cream and white or renaissance jewel colours.

 In our garden, my tulips come back regularly. I plant them extra-deep, and have had good repeat results, especially with ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Black Hero’. But I have not had success with tulips in containers.

 Tulips in Pots

My friends have brilliant pots bursting with tulips, while I have pots with a few single specimens waving at me. This year, I am looking back on where I went wrong.

 1)    Misunderstanding the principles of layering. I have crammed tulips with different flowering times into the same pot. This means that you get a long display but you don't get a full, crammed-to-overflowing display.

 Tulips are large bulbs. If a pot fits 12 tulip bulbs and you put in 4 early, 4 mid and 4 late flowerers, you will never have more than 4 tulips in flower at once. As not all bulbs come up (see points 2 and 3), you may only have 3 in flower at once. This will look gappy in a big container – and to fit 12 tulips bulbs, it will be big. Far better to layer using a mix of tulips and smaller bulbs like narcissi or muscari, so you can fill the pot with more bulbs and get a fuller effect as well as long flowering.

See Sarah’s instructions on how to plant a bulb lasagne.

 2)    Letting my containers get very wet. Tulips rot in the wet. I put a whole load of bulbs taken from other pots in one pot in June last year, hoping that it would flower this spring. We had a wet summer and winter. Every single bulb disappeared.

 This year I'll be planting my tulips as late as possible, probably late November. I'll make sure the pot and compost has good drainage. If it's really wet, I'll probably pull the pots under the eaves or try to give them a more sheltered spot.

 3)    Feeding mice and squirrels with my tulips. We live in a town, so we don't have voles, but I think the mice and squirrels have enjoyed my tulips even more than I have.

 I'm either going to cut some squares of chicken wire to put on top of the pots while plants are dormant, or use circular mesh peony supports. I'm also going to make sure I don't put any fish, blood and bone feed into pots containing bulbs – it's like putting a 'dinner's ready' flag up to the mice because they can smell it.

 Tulips, Primula and Hyacinth

The last part of my strategy is to hedge my bets by planting up more pots. I'm going to reuse the black plastic pots that the other plants arrived in. Then, if I get a good tulip display, I'll either wedge them in any gaps in the border or slip the black pots into my nice stoneware containers.

Tulips in pots

That way I don't have to choose between circus fanfare, romantic pastels and renaissance jewels. I can try a few pots of each and see which works best where.

Thanks for reading!

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