What to do with bulbs I might not be able to plant
April 14, 2022 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I ordered some bulbs to plant this spring, but it turns out that I'm going to have to do some work on the house that will mess up the garden beds they're supposed to go in. I really wanted these, and think I have three options. What do the experienced gardeners of MeFi think is the best one?

1. Plant them at my parents house this year, then transplant next year after house work is done.

2. Plant them in large pots this year, store inside over winter, then transplant into the ground next year when house work is done. I could probably store the whole pot in my cool but not freezing basement if that's better than digging them up. (My favorite option because I bought them to enjoy them at MY house.)

3. Don't plant them at all and hope they'll "keep"?? (My least favorite option even if it works, since I was excited about these plants.)

Maybe the answer is different for the different plants. I have elephant ears, dahlias, and asiatic lilies. I assume that the elephant ears can easily go in a big pot since in my zone you have to dig them up and store them inside over winter anyway, but I'm not sure about the dahlias and asiatic lilies. What would you do?

It's too late to cancel the order; they've already shipped.
posted by Kutsuwamushi to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
It might help if you can be more specific about the type of bulbs.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:18 PM on April 14, 2022

Best answer: I would go for option 2. They should be perfectly happy in large containers as long as you keep them watered and add some fertilizer or fresh soil partway through the growing season. Dig them up and brush off the soil at the end of the season and store them buried in peat moss. Make sure they don't dry out over the winter but also don't let them get too wet. You want to check them occasionally and discard any that are rotting. Use very large containers for the elephant ears and dahlias as they will get very large and you don't want them to be top heavy. The dahlias and the lilies will also need support in the form of stakes or tomato cages. Enjoy!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 4:38 PM on April 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sorry, I didn't see that you had already mentioned types. RobinofFrocksley's advice echoes what I would give - plant in generously sized containers, dig up in the fall. I do this with dahlias, I haven't tried it with elephant ears. In my climate (PNW coastal temperate rainforest) the asiatic lilies don't even need to be dug up; until I broke up the container that was growing too crowded, I had a half-barrel sized container that came back every year.

edited to add: dahlias are my thing and in some years I've done 40-50 pots of them on my deck. They do just fine in containers as long as you give them space and a bit of food every once in a while.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:45 PM on April 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Option 2 is super legit. We grow some of our tubers and bulbs in planters exclusively.

I didn't realize this was a thing until we started watching the BBC show Gardener's World, and we've had great success with following along with the show. There have been segments on that show on how to build different container displays with bulbs that will pop up at different times of the year, and how to maintain them. It is a fantastic resource, even if you have to take the broad strokes and adjust them to your climate. We are lucky enough to live in the PNW of the US, so our climate mimics the show's fairly well.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:54 PM on April 14, 2022

Response by poster: My main worry about leaving the lilies outside in a container is that maybe they'll be more effected by freezing temperatures in the winter than if they were in the ground. My family has grown day lilies for years in the ground with no issue, but never in containers. It can get below 0F here. Will they still be okay if I just leave them outside?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:55 PM on April 14, 2022

Best answer: Lilies are tough old birds. If you can find a spot in your yard where there's good sunlight and it's close to a hose, there's no reason you can't let them all live out the season in an awkward imperfect spot and then dig them up and store them over winter, winding up with perfectly happy tubers and bulbs next year.

Lilies you usually don't have to dig up but I'm sure there are exceptions (I mean you could just leave them there and move them next spring). I think they are hardy to zone 4 meaning they'll tolerate -30.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:21 PM on April 14, 2022

Rather that using (smallish) containers, could you whip up a quick raised bed somewhere, plop some soil in there, and use that as a kind of container? Bonus: maybe you'll like the raised bed and can use it for strawberries later.

There are really nice, easy cedar kits available for probably what you'd pay for the pots (if you got nice pots).

Also, they're on the ground, so they'd get a lot of the thermal mass/insulation that they'd have if they were in the ground.

Also: much more forgiving if you forget to water them. And pretty!
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on April 14, 2022

How many bulbs are you talking about? I'd put them in large containers and leave them outside all year. If you have a few days where it might get that cold, then have some old blankets you can throw over the pots, or move them against the side of the house and then put a blanket over them. But you don't need to do that all winter, just on the coldest nights.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:12 PM on April 14, 2022

Response by poster: I have fewer than 10 total bulbs, so I think I'm going to put them in containers. I already have quite a few large containers I tried growing vegetables in last year, which didn't work out because of squirrels.

Thanks for your advice everyone! It was very helpful.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:23 PM on April 15, 2022

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