Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson Seed & Garden
Once the holidays are over, most people have had enough of winter and are chomping at the bit for spring to arrive. It never comes quick enough! One thing you can do — and this is especially fun with young children in the house — is to force bulbs inside to enjoy during the long winter months of January and February. You can either chill the bulbs in soil, pots or a paper sack in the refrigerator. Follow this simple recipe to bring flowers to life inside your own home.
First, Chill Out
You can chill bulbs in the fridge, but be sure to store them away from fresh fruits and vegetables that can emit ethylene gas and damage the flowers developing inside the bulbs. Chill potted and bulk bulbs in paper bags.
Unless they’ve been pre-chilled, most flowering bulbs require a period of chilling in 35-45 degree Fahrenheit temperature to root and flower. (This simulated “winter” is not required for amaryllis or paperwhites, which can be simply potted, watered and set in a sunny spot.) The length of time needed for chilling varies by type (see inset box on next page).
The larger a bulb is, the more flowers it will produce, so whatever type of flower you decide to force grow, buy the largest bulbs you can find. You’ll know it is a good bulb if it is firm, free from nicks and bruises and doesn’t have sprouted roots yet.
Most bulbs will thrive when planted in a potting soil mix. Always start with clean pots and fresh mix.
Plan ahead. Purchase your bulbs early, either at a garden center, nursery or mail-order source. Ensure the pot you are going to use is clean, has a drainage hole and is at least twice as deep as the bulbs (to allow for proper root growth). Fill the pot half-full of potting soil mix.
Place as many bulbs as possible in the pot without letting them touch. A six-inch-wide pot can hold up to six tulips, three daffodils or 15 minor bulbs (i.e., crocuses or grape hyacinths).
For a thick show, layer more than one kind of bulb in the same pot by placing larger bulbs on bottom so they will grow around the smaller ones. If the two bulbs you want to combine have different chilling and blooming schedules, you can plant them separately in small plastic containers and combine them once they begin to bloom.
Cover the bulbs with potting soil mix and leave just their tips peeking through. Water the bulbs thoroughly, and label each pot with the bulb name and plant date. Then, loosely cover the pot with a paper bag and place it in a cool (35 – 45 degree Fahrenheit), dark storage spot to chill (see inset box for individual bulb chilling times).
Check the moisture in the pot periodically. You want the soil to remain damp, but not wet. When the chilling period is complete, roots will be poking from the bottom of the pot and green sprouts will begin emerging at the bulb tips. When this occurs, it is time to move the potted bulbs into a warm room.
Once flower buds form, move potted bulbs into a sunny spot. Continue to keep the soil damp. When flowers appear, move the pot out of direct sun to make the blooms last longer. After the blooms fade and wither, toss everything into the compost. (Most forced bulbs use up their energy and won’t bloom again.)
Nothing rewards or fulfills as much as watching forced bulbs bloom inside during the winter. Hopefully these easy steps will help you on your way to successful flowers and wintertime happiness.
Chilling & Blooming Times
Daffodils: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Tulips: 10-16 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Crocus: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Grape hyacinth (Muscari): 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Iris reticulata: 13-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Snowdrop (Galanthus): 15 weeks of chilling; 2 weeks to bloom after chilling.
Hyacinth: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after.