Planting Tulips in Containers for a Spring Show

China Town, photo courtesy of

I was in a garden store the other day that sported the annual boxes of bulbs on the far side of the wall. Normally I do not purchase tulips because they do not always come back in my Virginia garden. Deer and rabbits eat them; squirrels will dig them up. But I had a new, large container on the deck which deer and rabbits could not access, and these bulbs were only a dollar each, so why not?  I thought it would be fun to create a spring show.

The photo of China Town on one of those boxes grabbed my heart. It is a “viridiflora” type that blooms pink with green streaks up each petal creating a pink/green blossom. The foliage is bluish green with white margins. China Town was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.

Usually when tulip bulbs are planted in the ground they are spaced 4 to 6 inches apart but in a container, they are planted much closer. I was able to fit 10 bulbs in a 22-inch Rim Crescent Garden container, about 6 to 8 inches deep.

After I planted the bulbs, I watered the container and then added more soil to plant yellow pansies, Johnny jump ups, and a few sprigs of sedum for winter color. This container is in full sun and unless the pansies begin to wilt, I will depend on the rain and/or snow to water the bulbs. Although it is possible to fertilize tulips when planting them in the ground, I did not do it for this container. The potting mix is new and comes with some fertilizer.

Although deer and rabbits are not a problem on my deck, the squirrels think nothing of digging through all of my containers. To deter them, I sprinkled Espoma blood meal. If I had not planted the pansies, I could have kept the squirrels out by covering the top of the container with chicken wire, kept in place with pins, or covering with something sharp like spiny brambles, stems with thorns, or crushed eggshells, all of which would be removed in the spring.

The viridiflora type of tulip should bloom in May and is considered a “late” blooming tulip. The blooms last several weeks and make good cut flowers. China Town will grow to 12 inches, which is short for this category; most grow to 20 inches.

Technically, tulips are perennials but most of the bulbs you see for sale now are treated as annuals here in this area because of our hot summers. There are many types of tulips of course so any of the bulbs you see for sale now could be planted in a large container with drainage holes. And if you see a sale, you can’t go wrong!

Photo of China Town courtesy of

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