How to Keep your Summer Bulbs in Pots for Longer

These little 'buddies' store nutrients in their short stems, so bulbs are naturally an easy means of getting into gardening (because they're low maintenance) - in fact, a few potted bulbs can have fantastic results without a great deal of effort.

They're perfect for any level of gardener; if your orchid's are taking up most of your focus and time, you can be safe in the knowledge that your little bulbs are (mostly) taking care of themselves.

Bulbs on wooden surface with red gloves

If you buy bulbs in a packet, they’ll likely be marked with a ‘best before’ date. As a rule, however, they tend to last for around twelve months when kept in good conditions (which we’ll touch upon later).

You can tell when they’ve gone bad – they tend to become soft and mushy, like overripe fruits.

The flowers that sprout from summer bulbs are among the most vibrant and good-looking. In this category we find Begonias, Gladiolas, Lilies and Dahlias. You’ll need to plant them in spring to see the best of them.

Summer bulbs are, for the most part, ‘tender’, which means that freezing outdoor temperatures will kill them. Of course, this doesn’t prevent you from moving them indoors when the temperature starts to drop – this will extend their lifespan just a little longer. You can help them out a little more by providing the right environment. Let’s consider how we might make bulbs last longer this summer.

1. Choosing the Right Pot

If it’s to really thrive, your plants will need enough room to spread their roots into. This means selecting an appropriately-sized container before planting bulbs. A dinner-plate Dahlia will require a 12” pot, while something smaller, like a Lily, will get by with just an 8” one. If in doubt, ask someone at your local garden centre.

2. Ensure proper Drainage

When planting summer bulbs, drainage is paramount. They need regularly watering, since they’re out in hot weather. But they’re also vulnerable to rot, and so we need to be sure that water doesn’t stand inside the pot. You can add crocks or pebbles to the bottom of the pot, and place the entire thing on feet so that excess water has a place to go.

3. Provide enough food

Summer-blooming plants require more energy than others in a short space of time. They’ll need to be regularly re-fertilised to last the entire summer (and beyond). New compost every two to three weeks will make an enormous difference.

4. Choose the right soil

Given that moisture is such a problem for bulbs, it’s worth thinking about soil permeability. The weight of repeated watering (as well as the bulbs themselves) will compact certain soils over time, preventing water from quickly draining to the bottom of your pot. Correct this with the right choice of fertiliser, and mix in a little grit.

Sprouting bulbs in a pot

5. Trim away the flowers

After summer, your flowers will naturally begin to wilt. Unless you’re looking for seed production, you can safely trim away the flowers at this point. This will prevent the plant from wasting energy that might otherwise be stored for next year.

6. Are all Summer Bulbs tender?

While most summer bulbs are unable to last the winter, there are a few exceptions. These include Lilies and Alliums. The stems will begin to die naturally in autumn, but you’ll be able to leave the bulbs in the same pot for a few years before you need to replant them in fresh compost. This makes them a convenient choice if you don’t have enough room to bring all of your pots indoors.

7. What should I do with my bulbs after summer?

If your summer bulbs are on the way out, you can do one of two things. You can either dig them up and toss them into the compost, or you can store them for next year. There’s a little bit of extra effort involved in the second option, but the results can be terrifically rewarding. What’s more, it’ll save you money on buying new packets each year. If you’ve an entire flowerbed to maintain, this saving can be significant.

8. Storing Summer bulbs

When storing your bulbs for next year, be sure to control the humidity. Excess moisture will lead to rot just as easily when they’re in storage, so take care of it if you want the chance to put your bulbs back in the ground again. Plastic bags are a big concern - being watertight, they’ll trap moisture and ruin your bulbs. Get paper ones instead (they're better for the environment too!).

It’s also worth dusting your bulbs with powdered sulphur. This will prevent fungal roots from taking hold. You can easily do this by putting the bulbs in a zip-lock bag along with your sulphur and giving them a good shake. Then spread the bulbs across a flat, well-ventilated surface, and cover them with something breathable.

Blooming brilliant bulbs!

If you’ve done everything right, you’ll be planting the same summer bulbs next spring!