Although tulips, daffodils, and crocus are the first flowers to bloom each spring, you can capture that beauty through the winter months as well. Forcing bulbs is a sure fire way to bring this breath of spring indoors even in the dead of winter, and it isn’t difficult to do but now is the time to begin.
Begin by purchasing good quality, fresh bulbs at your local garden center. Almost any variety of bulb that you would normally plant in your garden each fall will work, though you may find some which have been prepared especially for forcing and those should be marked as such. Paperwhite, amaryllis, crocus and hyacinths are among the most popular bulbs to force over the winter.
The whole point of forcing bulbs is to trick them into thinking they have gone through the winter and that spring has arrives. This is usually done by potting them up in the fall, usually right around this time, chilling them for 12-20 weeks, then bringing the pots into your heated house. Be sure to pay attention to the particular bulb for chilling times but typical times are around 15 weeks for crocus, iris, narcissus, and snowdrops. Tulips range from 14-20 weeks, depending on the variety.
Bulbs can be forced in just about any container, although there are special containers and pots made specifically for this purpose. Put stones, gravel, broken pottery or styrofoan peanuts into the bottom to provide drainage. Use a good commercial potting mix to fill the pot. When the bulb is set in place, the neck of the bulbs should be even with the rim of the pot. If you prefer, bulbs can also be forced by planting them in gravel.
For especially striking displays, bulbs can be placed so tightly in the pot that they almost touch. Keep in mind that a bulb is a living plant that already has all the food it needs to grow and bloom stored within the bulb itself. Also keep in mind that when you plant it, the pointy end goes up!
Once planted, find a space for your bulbs that will supply winter like conditions. This could be in a garage, crawl space, in a cold frame, or any other place that will simulate winter conditions which is why you need to wait until the weather begins to cool to plant them. Ideally they should be kept between 40-50 degrees and in a place where they won’t freeze. You can also use a spare refrigerator if you have one. Water occasionally if dry. Watering too often will cause rot so you want to be careful with the amount you give them.
After the cold treatment is finished, move your pots to an inside location that will still be out of the sun and direct heat for several days. Once they begin to sprout, move them to a location that provides more light and warmer temperatures.
Your bulbs should bloom in three to five weeks, depending on the variety. Turn your pots daily to keep them even. At this point you want to begin watering regularly. Do not let them dry out, but again, be careful not to keep them soggy.
You may need to support your bulbs as they grow and bloom if they are very tall. This can be done by inserting sticks around the outside of the pot and then tying the sticks together. You can also use plant rings, which are available at your local garden center.
Once they have finished blooming indoors, plant your bulbs out in your yard next spring. They will then bloom again each following spring.
Versatile and visual, forcing bulbs can be a fun winter project for young and old alike!
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.