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Growing bulbs in pots


Looking for a bit of advice, as I’m really struggling to grow spring bulbs in pots. 

I have been using a mix of grit and multipurpose compost so it’s free draining, but my efforts each year are mostly dismal. I live in the Cairngorms where it’s really cold in winter, so this past year I tried leaving the pots in the greenhouse through most of the worst weather, just watering them occasionally, then moved them outdoors in March. I’ve tried leaving them out over winter in the past, but the bulbs mostly rotted, so I thought the protection of the greenhouse would help. 

Usually the bulbs all seem to be coming up fine with nice green shoots, but then just seem to peter out, or the shoots turn yellow and die back. I turned some of the worst ones out the pot recently and they were soft and squidgy. 

What am I doing wrong? I don’t think they can be too wet as there’s heaps of grit in the compost, and this winter hasn’t been particularly wet up here (just very cold!). Photos attached of a couple of the pots - should be full of grape hyacinths and narcissi! 😭



  • PurplerainPurplerain Posts: 1,053
    I have been trying to figure this out. It could be caused by overwatering in the Winter. Try planting them in a damp compost and then leaving the pots alone until you decide to put them outside. 

    Are you using washed horticultural grit, because there might be something causing a problem with that.

    Finally, when you tipped the bulbs out, did you find any grubs? I would place my bet on them being too damp over Winter though.
    SW Scotland
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 28,818
    I think you should change to John Innes no 3 compost.  Multi purpose can be too soggy.

    Plant them as normal, water well and keep outside until the winter frosts start then move them into shelter from both excessive rain and deep cold.   
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • FireFire Posts: 17,116
    I have friends in Finland who say they get so much snow that they can only grow quite a narrow range of spring bulbs. They just don't make it through the cold and very long winter. Maybe try flowers that are happy in Scandinavia - they might be more like to make it where you are.
  • Jason millyJason milly Posts: 546
    Like mentioned  above when cold frost come out them in the greenhouse and the leave them till early spring may be February then start to water them but not much, I also think it would be down to over watering  
  • Joyce21Joyce21 Posts: 15,489
    On the wet west coast, I keep pots of bulbs against the house wall (north facing) under the eaves and don't have a problem with them getting too wet.
    SW Scotland
  • FireFire Posts: 17,116
    Henatron said they do leave them in the greenhouse and it hasn't worked. I agree with upping the grit levels and cutting the watering by half and seeing what happens. I would imagine you lose most of the bulbs to rot.
  • HenatronHenatron Posts: 37
    Many thanks for all your suggestions and tips folks.

    Purple Rain - yes, I'm using washed horticultural grit, and no I didn't find any grubs or bugs when I tipped out a couple of the pots. Just rotten bulbs :-( Obelixx - the compost was mixed about half and half with grit, would that still be too soggy do you think? Fire - glad it's not as cold as Finland here! Ironically I can grow tulips directly in the ground ok as I have quite sandy soil, but no luck with grape hyacinths yet.

    I put the pots in the greenhouse in around about October last year, and brought them out in mid-March. I think I was watering them about every 10 days - 2 weeks, but the water came straight out the bottom each time so I thought they were draining well enough. How often do you think I should water them? Maybe just once a month? I should maybe have left them in the greenhouse until early to mid-April. I was worrying that they would dry out, but I guess the compost will stay damper than I thought, especially as I put a layer of grit on the surface.

    Thanks again for all your help :-D
  • Jacqueline29Jacqueline29 Posts: 385
    I grow most of my bulbs in pots. I plant them in the autumn for the spring, I put chicken wire around them to protect them from the squirrels digging them up. I also put fleece over them in the winter to protect them, the rain can still get through the fleece but not too much and then in the spring they have been nice and cosy and they have flourished. I then take the fleece off, and mine seem to be fine. I also add that I stand my pots on feet to let the air circulate and the water to drain through. 
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 28,818
    Henatron - I only ever use multi-purpose compost for improving soil.  Never for planting.  I don't think it's fit for planting.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • FireFire Posts: 17,116
    @zmirlinazim, your links never work. Are they trying to sell us something?
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