SMALL SPACE GARDENING: Forcing spring flowering bulbs into bloom
by Melinda Myers
Brighten your indoor décor, patio, deck, or balcony by forcing a few spring flowering bulbs into bloom. Just plant, give them a chill and enjoy a few extra daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, crocus and grape hyacinths this winter and spring.
All you need is a suitable container, some well-drained potting mix, the bulbs and a place to give the bulbs the chill necessary to force them to bloom. Select a container with drainage holes that is deep enough to accommodate the largest bulbs. Cover the bottom few inches of the container with a well-drained potting mix. Place larger and taller bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in the center surrounded by shorter varieties. They can be planted close together, about one half the bulb width apart with the neck of larger bulbs at or just below the soil surface. Set tulips with the flat side of the bulb facing the pot for a better display.
If you are using a deep container, plant layers of bulbs for a more robust and longer-lasting display. Set the largest bulbs on the potting mix near the bottom of the container. Cover these bulbs with soil and add the smaller bulbs like grape hyacinths and crocus on the next level. Plant these bulbs close to each other, covering the surface, for greater impact. Cover this layer with at least an inch of soil. Water thoroughly so the excess water drains out the bottom of the pot.
Move the bulb-filled container to a cool location where temperatures remain above freezing and between 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 weeks. A spare refrigerator works well for this. Just avoid storing the bulbs in a refrigerator with fruit like apples and pears that emit ethylene gas that can negatively impact flowering. If refrigerator space is limited, you can store the unplanted bulbs in a paper bag, so they take up less space in the fridge for the needed chill before planting.
Those gardening in colder climates can also store the pots in an unheated garage. Just water the containers whenever the soil is thawed and dry. Or sink the container into a vacant garden space in your landscape. Mulch the soil once the ground starts to freeze with evergreen boughs. The winter mulch makes retrieving the container easier in winter or spring.
Once the 12- to 15-week cold period is complete, you can begin moving the pots indoors. Remove a few pots every week to extend the bloom time and your enjoyment. Place the pot in a cool bright location to encourage more compact growth. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil begin to dry. Soon the leaves will begin to sprout and flowers will appear in about four weeks.
Provide ongoing care if you plan on moving the bulbs into the garden. Remove the faded flowers and place the leafy plants in a sunny window and water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil is dry. Fertilize with a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer.
When the danger of frost has passed, you can move these plants into the garden if they are suited to your growing conditions. These plants may not bloom the following spring but usually do the next year and for several beyond.
Or you can toss the forced bulbs into the compost pile so they can return to your garden as wonderful compost.
Investing time forcing a few spring flowering bulbs into bloom is sure to boost your spirits this winter. Consider planting a few extra pots of bulbs to do the same for friends and family.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.