How would you like to have months worth of colorful fresh flowers, blooming constantly and almost maintenance free? Sound impossible; I thought so too, until I started forcing bulbs for winter blooms. There is something about having new blooms in the dead of winter that lifts your spirits like nothing else. Follow these steps and soon you’ll be tossing out those dusty old silk flowers in place of the real thing.
Start with the best:
Increase your chances of success by starting your indoor garden with force friendly bulbs, such as, tulips, daffodils (narcissus) and grape hyacinths. They should be firm and heavy with no mold, cuts or early growth. Be gentle with them and do not expose them to temperatures over 65 degrees.
If you plant several pots, every two weeks from September to December, you will get continuous blooms from December to March. Generally, do not mix the types of bulbs as they have different blooming periods.
Pick your pot:
If you are using the soil planting method, plastic or clay pots work well. The plastic tends to hold water longer, but may not be as attractive as a clay pot. It can always be placed inside a basket or decorative pot. If you are using a clay pot, they need to be soaked in water for several hours prior to planting, otherwise they will absorb water from the soil. The pots should be shallow (4-5 inches) and be long or wide. If necessary, clean before planting by rinsing them out with a diluted bleach solution. If so, wait 24 hours before adding your bulbs to ensure the bleach has evaporated.
If you are using the water forcing method, clear glass containers or large decorative bowls work well.
Types of planting:
Combine equal parts of potting soil, peat moss, sand and vermiculite. Don’t worry about adding fertilizer, bulbs store their own food. Place some stones or broken pieces of pottery over the drainage holes to prevent water from leaking out of the soil. Partially fill the pots and place the bulbs on the soil, pointed end up, but not too close to each other, to prevent bulb rot. Tulips should be placed flat side against the pot so that their leaves will form a border around the edge. Now, add enough soil to fill the pot.
The bulbs can be watered by totally immersing the planter in a tub of water or from the top. It’s a good idea to label each pot with the name of the bulb and the date planted and the date to remove them from cold storage. A forced daffodil can be re-planted out doors, but it may take a few years before it blooms.
Cooling the bulbs, encourages them to bloom sooner. Place the pots in a cool place between 45 and 50 degrees – do not let them freeze! An unheated garage or basement works well; keeping them in the dark with as uniform a temperature as possible and water as necessary to prevent from drying out.
A sign that the plants are ready is when you see the roots peaking out of the pot drain holes; here are some guidelines for the cooling times required for different bulbs:
Grape hyacinth: 13-15 weeks
Daffodils: 15-17 week
Tulips: 14-20 weeks
If you plant numerous containers, they can be brought into the warmth in 2 week intervals, it won’t hurt them to be left in cold storage a little longer.
Forcing the bulbs:
Once adequately cooled, the bulbs are ready to come into the light and eventually bloom. Do this gradually by giving them partial shade at first and then introducing direct sunlight.
Water & Rock Method
Find a drain less container, and fill with pebbles, or decorative stones. White rocks in a clear bowl look really nice against the green leaves and colorful blooms. Add the bulbs so that they stand up on their own between the pebbles. Fill the pot only to the base of the bulbs, it shouldn’t cover more than 1/8 inch of the bulb or they will rot. Continue to top up as the plant dries out, be careful not to over water.
If you are using paper whites: place in a sunny spot and they will bloom in 4 to 6 weeks.
All others: Place in a shaded cool spot and bulbs should bloom in 8 to 12 weeks. At this time you could gradually introduce a sunny location.