Q&A: Cold-Climate Bulbs
Can bulbs survive the winter (and chinooks) in a pot?
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Q: I have a very shady yard but would like to have tulips or other color in the spring. I have mostly deciduous trees by the front door and thought I could plant bulbs in pots and move the pots around with the sun. Will the bulbs survive the chinooks?
— F.P., Zone 2-3, Calgary, AB.
A: Overwintering bulbs in containers is a very dicey proposition in your area, due in part to the periodic thawing that's typical of your winters when the warm, dry winds of the chinooks come to call. You might try to find a spot that will give your pots continuous cold storage — an unheated cellar, for example. The folks at Golden Acre Garden Sentre in Calgary say that some gardeners find a plastic liner that fits the container they want to use, then plant the bulbs in potting soil in the liner and sink that into the ground. Once it's time for the bulbs to emerge in the spring, they pull up the liner and insert it in the container.
If you don't want to take a chance on bulbs, you can count on tough annuals like pansies, ornamental kale and snapdragons to provide color in early spring; all would do okay in containers. Golden Acre also recommends a number of spring-blooming perennials that do well in shade and tolerate a few degrees of the frost that's common in your spring — primula, leopard's bane and bleeding heart. Those could go directly in the ground.
Paul James explains the difference between the plants that are sometimes collectively called "bulbs."