Even for the landless gardener, this is bulb-planting season.
The same containers that held impatiens, begonias, geraniums or petunias all summer can create a home this fall for the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that provide the signs, scents and symbols of springtime.
No containers? No problem. You can find plenty in all sizes at hardware stores and garden centers. Want to go big? Half a whiskey barrel will give you space to plant two dozen tulips. Smaller pots, especially when grouped or set on steps, are equally flowery.
But there is one technique of container planting that will double the spring show: layered planting. The larger, later-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips are planted deep, at least 6 to 8 inches in the container. Smaller, earlier flowering bulbs such as crocuses or grape hyacinths are planted several inches above them. The result is twice the bloom in the same amount of space.
Want even more? Add a frill of pansy plants on top for winter and spring bloom.
This technique calls for snug -- stuffed is the real word -- planting. Unlike in the garden, where bulbs are planted with room to multiply, bulbs in containers are planted close, almost touching each other.
Perfect drainage is required to avoid the soggy soil that will rot bulbs between the time you plant them and the time you expect them to arise and bloom. Garden soil dug out of the ground is not light enough for containers. Get packaged growing mixtures formulated for container gardening. Water will drain through it quickly.
The container must have a drain hole in the bottom, and the bottom of the container should have shards of clay pottery or large pebbles to keep the drainage system unclogged and prevent the growing mixture from washing out.
Once you have collected and prepared your containers, the fun starts. And that is choosing from the wealth of bulbs already stocked at garden centers.
A variety of bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocuses -- in a single color such as yellow -- is effective. But so is a merry mixture of white crocuses, yellow daffodils and blue hyacinths. Color is emotional and personal. Choose what you like.
The timing of bloom is also an important factor to consider. Some bulbs such as crocuses and snowdrops bloom quite early, so they are good choices for the top layer of your bulb lasagna.
But some daffodils, such as the miniature Tete-a-Tete, bloom early with the crocuses, while some follow the crocuses and bloom in March. Others, such as the splendid Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, bloom with the tulips in April.
You need to decide: Do you choose varieties of daffodils for a succession of blooms, or do you aim for a big splash of late daffodils and tulips in April?
Once your containers are ready with the drainage material in place, place 4 inches or so of growing mixture over it, then set the larger, later-blooming bulbs, such as the tulips, so that they are about 8 inches deep. Cover them with several inches of growing mixture and plant the earlier bulbs so that they are at the recommended depth.
Then fill the pot to within 1 inch of the rim. Water to stimulate root growth. Leave the pot outside through the winter.