Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Triple Layer Bulb Planting

I wanted to plant up everything at the new house right after I moved in, but it was the end of the growing season and I just couldn’t.  I thought I would put in bulbs this fall for wonderful Spring plants, but then I saw the rampant amount of wildlife, like the squirrels that dig in the containers  and the skunk that digs grubs in the yard and the opossum that does I do not know what and I thought bulbs would be gone before the ground freezes.  So I decided to try a technique I learned from the Dutch. It is a three layer bulb planting technique you can do in a container.
Sample image of three layer planting

Where I live the container cannot be left outside all winter, but on the floor of my unheated garage or the garden shed and it will be fine.

This technique can also be done if you live in an apartment or townhouse.  Place the container up against the building out of the wind or in a patio shed and you will have wonders in the spring.
Growing bulbs in containers is a great way to bring a little color to your doorstep or windowsill this spring and one of the most popular techniques for successfully growing a lot of bulbs in a single container is called “triple decker” planting.

Triple layer planting was invented by the Dutch as a way to create continuous spring flower displays. Individual planters were strategically placed in city centers and town squares throughout Holland to bring spring cheer to residents and welcome visitors to the village. This form of planting can allow gardeners to experiment with different color combinations and the look of each container can change from year to year. You can grow just about any type of bulb in a container using this technique and by picking the right combination of bulbs you can have them flower all at once or extend the blooming season out for months.

Impatient gardener made this perfect drawing
Choose bulbs that grow to different heights to create a more interesting spring display. For example, a classic combination is tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth. Avoid planting bulbs too close to the sides of the pot. Bulbs perform better in groupings - read the planting depth instructions on the bulb packaging when designing your layered container garden to ensure that your plan will work with the container you’ve chosen.

The first step in the process is to choose the right container. If the container is going to be left outdoors during the winter you'll want it to be at least 24 inches in diameter to make sure the bulbs don't actually freeze. If you live in garden zones 6 or lower you might have to keep your containers in an unheated garage or provide them some additional insulation and protection. Not only is the size of the container important but choosing one that is interesting in terms of color, texture, etc. will draw attention to the container even while it isn't in bloom.

Once you've chosen your container you want to think about drainage. Bulbs don't like overly wet soil and if the drainage isn’t adequate it will cause the bulbs to rot. A layer of stone or some crushed up soda cans should do the trick. You'll want the drainage layer to be at least an inch or two thick. You can start to put some soil in the container; any soil that is made for containers will be acceptable. The soil can be added until it is about 8 inches from the top of the pot.

To layer, first place a layer of gravel across the bottom of the container, then apply a thick layer of potting soil mixed with bulb food. Place the first layer of bulbs in the pot and cover with a layer of soil. The bottom layer is where you will plant your larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. You can add some more soil to the pot where the level will be 6 inches from the top. The middle layer is where you can plant bulbs like hyacinth or smaller daffodil and tulip bulbs. The top layer of bulbs can be planted roughly 3 to 4 inches from the top. Crocus and grape hyacinths are perfect choices for this layer. Cover the top layer of bulbs with a final layer of soil, as if you were planting outdoors. Water thoroughly, then let the fall rains take over. In any zone lower than 6, place the pot in the garage or shed once the ground freezes. And anticipate a beautiful spring!

Here are bulb suggestions --

Top layer:
Muscari, Crocus, Scilla, Chionodoxa, Puschkinia, Tritelia, Ixia, Freesia

Middle layer:
Tulips, Hyacinth, Galanthus

Bottom layer:
Daffodils, Allium, Fritillaria, Camassia, Lilies, Ipheon

Here are some other tips to keep in mind --
• Don’t be stingy with your bulbs. You can plant them close together but just be sure they don’t actually touch one another. A 24” pot can hold about 50 tulip bulbs, 30 daffodils and up to 100 smaller bulbs for the top layer.
• When you plant in the fall keep spring in mind. Make sure your container is placed where its beauty and fragrance can be enjoyed.
• Keep an eye out for mice or squirrels who love to dig in containers and chew up your bulbs. You can secure a layer of chicken wire over the top of the container if this is a problem in your area.

Home Depot.com


  1. Wonderful project! Thank you SO much, Marcy, for the information, especially for the bulbs suggestions!

    1. Thank you Tatyana! I love the way these look in spring when I have done nothing in the garden yet!


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