Create a bulb display for your deck or patio

  • Try planting bulbs in containers and keeping them in a chilly garage over winter.

    Try planting bulbs in containers and keeping them in a chilly garage over winter. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted11/20/2022 7:00 AM

For a unique bulb display in spring, plant bulbs in containers.

Plant the bulbs in layers in the container to create a dramatic display. Keep the containers in an unheated garage over the 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 that deer like to eat, place a net around the bulbs when you bring them outside.

• Wait to cut back perennials until early spring so there will be some winter interest in the garden. Some perennials -- such as hostas -- do not look good after being frozen, so you may want to cut them back as they flatten to the ground. Use a general rule of cutting back the plants that do not look good late in the fall and cutting back the remaining plants in early spring.

You may want to consider cutting more perennials back in the fall if you have had problems with voles in past years. Voles are small 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 various grasses, but they also consume other vegetation. They eat the bark of trees and shrubs during the winter, which causes more serious damage. Gardens with low-lying landscape plants such as arborvitae, spreading yews, junipers and cranberry cotoneaster have higher potential for vole activity.

Voles are most prolific when they have access to abundant vegetation and cover. The damage can 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 and other turf regularly and cut back vegetation from the bases of trees and shrubs as winter approaches in areas where there is vole activity. It is also a good idea to pull mulch away from the bases of trees and shrubs and keep snow cleared away from the bases of young trees. Reducing cover makes voles more vulnerable to predators such as hawks and owls. Removal of cover is very effective at preventing damage done by voles.

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

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