I am counting the days until spring. I watch the weather forecast like I am watching the lottery numbers being read, hoping the meteorologist is going to give me some good news.
Once the holidays are over, gardeners start dreaming about the beauty that lies beneath the surface of the soil, knowing there are bulbs under there just waiting for the right minute to bust out. Those first blooms of the season give us great joy, as they announce the end of winter.
Personally, I am impatient and can’t wait to see those blooms, so I have no choice but to cheat the system when the days of winter refuse to disappear. This cheating is called “forcing” bulbs. (Forcing is the act of tricking the bulbs into thinking it is spring because they are in the warmth of your house.)
There are several ways we can force bulbs, and I have tried them all. The best part is, it is relatively easy so even the most novice gardener can successfully grow these beautiful spring flowers indoors.
The first thing you should do, (after purchasing bulbs, of course) is make them shiver! By this I mean, your bulbs need to think they were underground for the winter, so you will need to keep them below 40 degrees for 15 to 17 weeks. You can chill them outdoors, in a cool garage, or some folks like to keep them in the fridge. If you are like me and don’t plan that far ahead, you can get around this chilling time by purchasing paper whites or amaryllis, neither of which requires this cooling off period.
Putting Some Roots Down
After the bulbs get their chill on, they are ready to plant. Tulips and daffodils seem to do best if planted in soil. You can fill any type of pot with a mixture of equal parts peat moss, potting soil, sand and vermiculite or perlite, then plant the bulbs a couple of inches deep.
Hyacinths, crocus and narcissi can be grown in pebbles, decorative rocks, aquarium rock, or special vases and really do not require any additional nutrients. When forcing these, put a layer of the decorative pebbles (about 2 inches deep works really well) in a shallow dish, and nestle the bulbs down into the rocks, the point of the bulb facing up. One more thing. Do not be afraid of putting the bulbs close together. Once they bloom, you will be glad you did, because not only is the color more impressive, the plants can get tall and leggy and if they are planted closely they will support one another.
Time for a Drink
Water the bulbs that are planted in the soil like you are watering a houseplant, being careful not to overwater, as the bulbs can rot. The bulbs rooted in vases or rocks should have water touching the bottom of the bulb, and not any deeper. You do not want the root systems on forced bulbs to dry out.
Soakin’ Up Some Rays
Now all you need is a good sunbeam. Heat is what is going to wake up the bulbs and get them to bloom. Move your pot to a sunny window to get the plants warmed up, and they will take off. You may want to give the container a little turn occasionally to make sure the flowers are all getting the same amount of sunlight.
Now the hard part … the waiting. Get out your flip flops, and pretend spring is springing! In a few short weeks, your house will be full of colorful blooms and intoxicating fragrance. This scent is something we tend to miss when these gorgeous bloomers are planted outdoors.
After the bulbs have bloomed and are spent, you can replant them outside. You will need to let the bulbs die back just like you would if they had bloomed naturally. They will get scraggly and once you see the leaves turning brown, cut them back and plant them outdoors.
And lastly, don’t try to “re-fool” them. The bulb will not let you force them a second time. Maybe all of that showing off wears them out.
1-3 Photos courtesy of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.
4 Photo courtesy of Stacey Mollus.