wintering-over Spring bulbs in pots

Jim McKenney
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 12:13:39 PST
I should be ashamed to admit this, but I end up doing my own version of this almost every year with one sort of bulb or another. 

The term bulbs covers a lot of territory - not all bulbs respond the same way to freezing. But in my experience here in USDA zone 7, after putting each bulb into its own zip lock baggie with a bit of moist medium, simply covering the bulbs with a heap of leaves out in the garden works well (no need to bury them; it will not hurt them to freeze solid). You can place a tarp over the leaf heap if the site is windy. Don't forget labels. Then forget about them until late winter when things begin to thaw out. The advantage of the baggies is that the plants will produce roots all winter, and since you're putting only one  bulb in each baggie, it will be easy to slide them out of the baggie into the ground without having a big root tangle to deal with. 

Or do the same thing except store them in the refrigerator (not the freezer). 

In my experience, the real problem is not the storing of the bulbs, it's getting them  into the soil in late winter/earliest spring. The soil is likely to be wet and sticky. For early blooming bulbs such as crocus and reticulate irises, you can't delay or they will try to bloom in the bags. There will be so many other things to do at that time of year that it will be very tempting to leave the bulbs in the fridge or under their leaf pile for yet another week. It will be cold, wet and windy, and a cup of hot chocolate with a good book beside the fire while you wait for a change in the weather is much more appealing than getting your hands and feet wet and clothes muddy and dirty. 

Let me emphasize that it is not necessary to bury the bulbs deeply to keep out frost - it's OK for them to freeze as long as the baggies are touching the ground and are covered with leaves. But beware pots stored above ground, especially small pots. And there is really no reason to go to the trouble of potting up the bulbs - the baggie system works fine, and because  the baggies are not rigid they store much more efficiently than rigid pots if you use the refrigerator method. 

I hope you have already prepared the site: that's another thing you don't want to have to do at the tail end of a wet winter. 

Believe me, this is the voice of experience, long experience, speaking. 

Good luck, and let us know how it turned out.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin /<> 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

More information about the pbs mailing list