If your summer pots are looking straggly and tired, bite the bullet, bin the summer bedding and make a head start by filling your containers with spring bulbs.
Bulbs often do better in containers than in the ground, as you can control drainage better and plant them in gritty compost which gives them more chance of success.
Ideally, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths should be planted by the end of September, although they can be planted later.
Tulips should be planted in late October or November, as they need a drop in temperature to root well. Planting in lower temperatures may also reduce the chances of them getting a fungal disease called tulip blight (Botrytis tulipae), which can rot the bulbs or cause lesions on the leaves.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that spring bulbs in pots should all be of the dwarf variety. While there’s few prettier sights than a mass of deep blue muscari filling a small traditional terracotta pot, don’t be afraid of planting big, bold bulbs en masse in bigger pots because, provided they are in a fairly sheltered spot away from strong winds, they should give you a stunning display.
Many gardeners opt for layering bulbs for a continuous display throughout spring. This is done by planting a variety of bulbs at different depths in the pot.
For instance, in a large container insert larger bulbs such as tulips, covering them in compost, then add another layer of medium-sized bulbs such as dwarf narcissi and cover these, then finally add small bulbs such as crocuses or snowdrops and top them with a final layer of compost.
The bulbs nearer the top will flower first, then as they die down they will be replaced by the medium bulbs, which will in turn be replaced by the larger bulbs later in the season.
When planting bulbs, place crocks in the bottom of the pot, add 15-20cm of multi-purpose compost with added bulb fibre and begin your layering, nestling late-flowering bulbs into the surface of the compost and adding compost just to cover the bulbs or leave the tips showing.
If you leave pots outside in the winter, don’t let them become sodden. Stand the pots on feet to allow the moisture to drain through. However, don’t let the pots dry out either or it will lead to stunted growth and flowers which wilt quickly.