It may seem a little strange to be talking about planting up containers for autumn and winter now, when it’s still the school summer holidays. But spring bulb catalogues are out, and spring bulbs and autumn bedding are starting to arrive in garden centres now. Since one of the best and cheapest way of buying bulbs is to order them from seed catalogues, it’s certainly worth thinking about ordering bulbs now ready for planting from late September.
But what about your summer containers? Are they still flowering? Well, keep them going as long as you can. A previous article talked about keeping your summer containers going, and you may be able to keep them until at least October if you look after them. In that case, if you don’t have enough containers for two complete sets, you may need to invest in a few more. It’s probably a good idea to have additional pots and containers anyway, as it means you can start off your summer bedding early next year!
So what plants are suitable for containers for autumn and winter? Well, as usual, that depends on your containers.
If you have window boxes, you’ll need to focus on small bulbs such as crocus, dwarf iris, rockery narcissi, and species of tulips that are low growing, together with small bedding plants such as pansies, violas, primulas and polyanthus. With that mix, you have scope for flowers from early February to June. If you also include some ivies or small conifers, you’ll have green outside your window from October onwards. And all these plants and bulbs, with the possible exception of the pansies, can be put into your garden afterwards to grow and give you pleasure for many years. If you have large pots or half barrels, you can grow almost any plants and bulbs.
And what’s the best way to plant? Start by putting some crocks or pieces of wood into the bottom of your container to provide drainage, then add potting compost. For really large pots, such as half-barrels, a mixture of compost and topsoil is likely to be best. You can buy compost and topsoil from compost suppliers. Fill the container about half full with your chosen potting compost, then add the lowest layer of bulbs. In this layer, you want the bigger bulbs, such as daffodils, narcissi and tulips.
Cover that layer of bulbs completely with compost, so the container is about three quarters full, then layer in your smaller bulbs: dwarf iris, crocus, and rockery narcissi are all reliable container bulbs, although you could also try chionodoxa (Star of the Snow) and species tulips. Cover all those bulbs, and then at the top, plant your bedding plants. Simple!