Waiting for those eagerly anticipated spring flowers can be exciting, but there comes a point when it can turn a bit dreary. Those winter months can be so very long…and so very grey…If only there was something that could make those happy flower bulbs start blooming a little earlier…
What if I told you that you can make your winter wishes come true this year? That you can have your favorite spring colors grow indoors for you, whenever you want? The name of this gardening magic is bulb forcing, although the word coaxing would describe the process a bit better. All you have to do is trick the bulbs into believing winter has come and gone, and they will present their hidden spring delights in any season.
The most commonly forced flower bulbs are hyacinths, paperwhites, muscari (grape hyacinths), amaryllis, tulips and crocus.
For a flower bulb to understand that it’s time to start flowering, it needs to have had a few months of hibernation. If you plant your bulbs in the garden in the fall, nature will take care of this for you. While you go about your life, the cold and dark conditions underground will help flower bulbs to produce good roots that can support amazing blooms once the plant ‘wakes up’. Forcing flower bulbs is all about simulating this process, but at a time that you have chosen.
Forcing Bulbs in water
The first thing you have to do is simulate winter by pre-chilling your flower bulbs. This means keeping them in a dry, cold place where it’s between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, for 12 to 15 weeks, depending on the variety. The easiest place to chill your flower bulbs is in your fridge, although make sure not to chill them next to fruit or vegetables, as these might adversely affect the process. Simply place them in a paper bag and leave them in the cold for as long as this specific bulb variety needs to pre-chill. Other good places to pre-chill your flower bulbs are a barely heated garage, a barn, a cool basement or an enclosed porch.
Glass vessels and pretty pebbles
Once the chilling time is over you can start forcing your flower bulb in water. To do this you can use any glass vessel (vase, bowl, square vase). The key is to place your bulb in such a way that only the very bottom gets wet. A good way to do this is by filling the glass with pebbles and nesting the bulbs together on the very top. You can get a lovely effect by placing 3 hyacinth bulbs together, or a mix of 12 tulip bulbs. Place them tight together so they give you a good flower show and will support each other when growing. Then fill the vessel with water but only just up to the bottom of the bulbs. Place the vase in a brightly lit room and after a few weeks you will be presented with an amazing antidote for the winter blues!
Forcing bulbs in soil
To force a flower bulb in soil, you chill them after planting. Take a clay pot and cover its bottom with about 1 inch of gravel. Then fill the pot with at least two inches of soil mix. Great flower bulbs for soil forcing are bright-yellow miniature daffodils or hyacinths, as they will add a touch of cheerful color and lovely fragrance to a room and make wonderful centerpieces for a table. Place the bulbs in the pot, very closely together, then cover up completely with soil and water them. Place the pot in a cold basement or in a refrigerator (but not with fruit or vegetables) and leave it there for about 10 to 15 weeks depending on how long your chosen variety needs. Do check often to make sure the bulbs don’t get too dry. Make sure not to over water them. Flower bulbs like water but when they sit in it they will start to rot. When the first shoots appear you take the pot out of the refrigerator but leave it in a cool place (60F) for about a week. When the sprouts begin to turn green, you move the pot to a sunny window, and water the bulbs daily. Watch them grow, and chase the winter blahs away with your wonderful spring-preview!
If you crave some springtime loveliness in your house, but feel you can’t wait 10-12 weeks, I have good news for you. The lovely paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs don’t need any chilling at all before you start forcing them. Quick and easy to start, they'll bloom within six to ten weeks of forcing. Order them today and give yourself indoor blooms not only for the holidays but throughout the winter by planting them batch after batch.