Tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths on Grumpy's back porch. Photo by Steve Bender.

Twenty minutes of work right now can turn into one incredible show next spring. All you need are the right bulbs, the right pots, the right soil, and step-by-step instructions from Grumpy.

Step 1 -- Buy or order bulbs now. Don't wait! That's because garden centers will soon replace their bulb displays with Christmas displays and mail-order nurseries will sell out.

Daffodils (the best overall bulbs for the South) work great, but they come in only two basic colors, white and yellow. I wanted more punch and variety this time, so I chose tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths (Muscari). To get them to bloom together, I chose early-blooming types that are known for being easy to force into bloom indoors (even though that's not what I did here). Here's the bulb list:

1. Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket' -- deep blue and fragrant 2. Hyacinth 'L'Innocence' -- white and fragrant 3. Tulip 'Apeldoorn' -- cherry red with black heart 4. Tulip 'Negrita' -- striking purple 5. Tulip 'Bestseller' -- nice salmon 6. Grape hyacinth 'Valerie Finnis' -- light blue

Step 2 -- Buy some nice pots for the bulbs to go in. You can opt for pots of cast stone, iron, or concrete if you want to impress snooty neighbors. But the first time you try to lift or move one around, you'll probably pop your spleen. No, go for lightweight fiberglass pots. It's amazing how much they look like actual terra-cotta, stone, or concrete, but they're much cheaper. And a big ant could carry one on his head.

Those are all fiberglass pots above with three about 16 inches wide at the top and the saucer planter about 30 inches. You could fill them with a lot of potting soil, but bulbs only need about 6 inches to grow in. So that brings us to...

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Step 3 -- Buy good quality, name-brand potting soil for your containers, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix or Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. DO NOT USE GARDEN SOIL, TOP SOIL, PEAT HUMUS, or COW MANURE. These products are too heavy and drain too slowly. If they get wet, your pot will weigh the same as a neutron star. But instead of filling the pots with potting mix....

Step 4 -- Fill all tall pots (not the saucer) halfway up with either pine cones or biodegradable packing peanuts. Why? You'll only need half as much potting mix and your pots will be lighter. Then fill the pots with potting mix to within an inch or so of the rim.

Step 5 -- For the best show, plant lots of bulbs. Remember, these aren't permanent bulb plantings. Place as many bulbs as you possibly can across the soil surface, leaving no space between them. Then nestle each into the potting mix, so that the top of each bulb is just a hair below the surface. Water each container thoroughly and then finish off the top with an inch of mulch. Grumpy likes to use pine bark mini-nuggets.

Step 6 -- Leave the planters outside in winter. The more cold the bulbs get, the better they'll bloom. In the South, they'll actually bloom better than bulbs in the ground, because cold air can reach all the soil they're in.

Three Great Mail-Order Sources for Bulbs Screened & Approved by Grumpy