Gardening: Seven design tips to make your tulips in garden pots stand out in a crowd

26th October 2019
Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’

Even if you only have room for one pot in the smallest space, plant some tulips in it to make your garden spring to life, says Hannah Stephenson.

It’s almost time to plant your tulips to give you a flush of flowers in spring.

But don’t despair if you only have a small space because tulips can work in pots too, whether you want a clutch of scorching reds or sizzling yellows, or a more subtle display of whites or soft pinks.

So, how do you make the most out of tulips in pots?

1. Opt for shorter stemmed types in smaller pots

The varieties which don’t grow too tall look best and tend to stay upright in windy conditions. Also, make sure you keep the size of the tulips in proportion to the size of your pot.

2. For a wow factor, go for a block colour

It’s very much up to personal taste, but I find that in a small space, one colour goes a long way. I prefer one cultivar in a pot, but you can become more adventurous with bigger containers. As a rule, the bigger the container, the more variety of colour you can have.

Some people prefer two contrasting colours such as red and yellow in a pot – their clashing tones will bring a dull area alive.

3. Choose types which flower at the same time

If you are planting different types of tulips together as a combination of colour and form, make sure they bloom at the same time. So, two types from the same group, such as Parrot, Triumph, or Single Late, should flower simultaneously.

If you want your pot to have a longer flowering period so that your tulips bloom at different times, bear in mind that the earlier flowering candidate is likely to have wilted leaves and faded petals by the time the later variety is in flower, which can spoil the overall look.

4. Select contrasting blooms to lengthen interest period

If you want earlier flowers add crocuses to the outer edge of the pot, which will provide late winter colour before the tulip leaves cover them up when the crocuses are dying down. Other good foils for tulips include muscari and Anemone blanda.

Tall, sleek lily-flowering tulips are complemented with low-growing foliage plants such as dwarf hebes, thyme and helichrysum. Blue forget-me-nots go well with early double tulips in virtually any colour.

5. Plant them in groups

Tulips need to be planted in groups of at least three, and in larger containers more, for the best visual impact. You can plant them closer together in containers than you would in beds and borders, but don’t let them touch. Plant several clumps of the same varieties through your border for maximum impact.

5. Don’t let the bulbs rot

When planting, line the bottom of your pot with crocks or pebbles and free-draining soil mixed with a handful of grit. Make sure your container is at least 30cm (12in) deep so that the bulbs can be planted at a reasonable depth, as well as making room for the roots. Place your pot on feet to avoid the bulbs getting waterlogged from below.

6. Keep them sheltered in the depths of winter

Tulips like a period of dormancy and they don’t want to be saturated, so move them to a sheltered location in the worst winter weather, moving them into their flowering position in spring. Make sure they don’t completely dry out, though, as this can lead to stunted growth.

7. Choose tried and tested varieties

Well-established favourites for pots include Tulipa ‘Ballerina’, a weather-resistant lily-flowered type with rich orange blooms, ‘Queen of Night’, which has tall, strong stems which carry purple-black flowers, or the compact variety ‘Peppermint’, whose closed red flowers open to reveal a white marking.

For shallow containers go for a dwarf or specie variety such as ‘Red Riding Hood’ or ‘Lady Jane’, which produces pencil-thin flowerbuds which open to delicate-looking flowers which are deep pink on the outside and white and yellow in the middle.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.