Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Brighten up the indoors this winter by trying your hand at forcing some spring bulbs.  It’s easy to do.  The term forcing refers to inducing a plant to produce its shoot, leaf and flower, out of its natural environment and ahead of its natural schedule. When we force bulbs indoors, we mimic the same conditions that the bulbs would experience when grown outdoors.  Paperwhite Narcissus, which are fragrant, and Amaryllis are two bulbs that don’t need chilling as they are native to warm climates, however, bulbs such as Tulips, Daffodils, Scilla, Crocus, Muscari, Chionodoxa and Hyacinths need to be chilled. Both types are handled in the same way, although the forcing period may vary slightly.

Here are some tips:
1. Choose firm, non-marked, high quality bulbs.
2. Look for cultivars that do not grow too tall.
3. Use clean containers, keeping in mind that clay pots tend to dry faster.  If using clay, soak the pot for several hours to saturate the pores.  Bulbs look best in a shallow, wide container that’s approximately 4 – 6 inches deep.
4. Bulbs need moisture and also perfect drainage to grow successfully.  A mix of equal parts of peat moss, potting soil, sand and vermiculite or perlite is best; however, they can also be grown in a soil less mix combined with either part perlite or vermiculite. Hyacinths, Crocus and Narcissus can also be forced in water. Special clear glasses are used for forcing.  The bulb is placed in the upper portion and water in the bottom, just to cover the basal plate.  Paperwhites can also be grown in a shallow container of water filled with pebbles.  Secure the bulb in the pebbles deeply enough so that the basal plate is in touch with the water. Keep the container in a cool, dark room (preferably around 10 degrees C. or under) for a period of 4 – 8 weeks until the root system has developed and the top elongates. Use something like a black garbage bag to place loosely over top of the container if the spot you have chosen is not in complete darkness.  After the cool, dark period, place the container in a bright window and it will soon come into bloom. Each bulb will send up several flower blossoms.

5. If planting bulbs in a soil mixture, fill your container to about ½ to ¾ full of the potting mixture.  Moisten the soil.  Plant the bulbs close together, without touching and with pointed ends up, in a container partially covered with soil.  After planting, cover with soil, leaving the tips exposed and leaving about a ½ inch of space at the top of the container so it can be easily watered.  Never bury the bulbs.  If you are planting tulips, plant the flat side of the tulip bulb closest to the rim of your container. The largest leaf will always emerge and grow on the flat side, producing a more desirable look.
6. Water thoroughly.
7. After planting, the bulbs must be given a cold treatment, in darkness, preferably under 10 degrees C. for a minimum of 12 – 13 weeks. Don’t allow the bulbs to freeze as they will turn to mush. Most bulbs require a period of 16 – 18 weeks of cold before the flower is fully formed.  If you cut the cooling time short, the flowers may emerge but they will probably be stunted and deformed. The fridge, a cool pantry or an unheated basement are some great spots to keep them during the cool period.
8. Mark your calendar to remind yourself when the container can be removed from the dark and cool.
9. After the chill, gradually expose them to light and warmth.  Start them off in the coolest part or your house in indirect sunlight.  Exposing them to warm temperatures too quickly will cause the blooms to emerge too fast and they will fail before they ever open.  When shoots are about 3 – 5 inches high, move the container to a bright, sunny window.  When the buds start to show colour, move them to indirect light again to prolong the bloom time. At night, move them back into the cool, if possible, as warmer temperatures will result in rapid growth.
10. After the bloom has finished, discard Paperwhites, Hyacinths, Tulips and Crocus as they normally will never likely flower satisfactorily again.  Other bulbs can be planted out in the garden but may take a number of years to re-bloom.

If you follow these tips, you will be able to enjoy fragrant blooms and colour all winter long!

Posted by Tammy Jensen at 12:05 PM 0 Comments