Make a bulb container for a beautiful spring display

  • Voles are most prolific when they have abundant vegetation to eat and cover to protect them from predators.

    Voles are most prolific when they have abundant vegetation to eat and cover to protect them from predators. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted11/21/2021 7:00 AM

For a unique bulb display in spring, plant bulbs in containers. It is possible to layer bulbs in the container to create a dramatic display of bulbs.

Keep the containers in an unheated garage over winter. An attached garage works best so that the containers with bulbs do not freeze solid. Water the bulbs in well at planting and provide some supplemental water as needed during the remainder of fall. The bulbs will be forming roots during this time.


You may need to water the containers in late winter as temperatures begin to warm up. Move the pots outside as the weather warms in spring and the bulbs will grow and flower.

Move the bulbs back into the garage if a hard freeze is predicted. If you have planted tulips (which deer prefer), net the bulbs when you have them outside.

Wait to cut back perennials until early spring so there will be some winter interest in the garden. Some perennials such as hosta do not look good after being frozen, so it is best to cut them back in fall as they flatten to the ground. Cut back the plants that do not look good late in the fall and leave the remaining plants up until early spring.

• You may want to cut more perennials back in the fall if you have had problems with voles. Voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs and short tails that can be mistaken for mice. They do not hibernate and are active throughout the year, mostly at dawn and dusk.

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Voles primarily eat the stems and leaves of grasses, but they also consume other vegetation. They will eat the bark of trees and shrubs during the winter, which typically is the most serious damage. Gardens with low-lying landscaping, such as arborvitae, spreading yews, junipers and cranberry cotoneaster, have higher potential for vole activity. Voles are most prolific when they have abundant vegetation and cover.

The damage is likely to be more severe during extended cold spells with deep snow cover. Eliminate weeds and dense ground cover around lawns to make these areas less able to support voles. Mow lawns routinely, and cut back vegetation from the bases of trees and shrubs as winter approaches in areas where there is vole activity.

Also, pull mulch away from the base of trees and shrubs and keep snow cleared away from the base of young trees. Reducing cover makes voles more vulnerable to predators such as hawks and owls. In general, removal of cover is very effective in preventing damage done by voles.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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