Despite our best intentions, there are always a few gardening tasks that don’t get completed before winter arrives. While many of these things will simply have to wait until spring, bulbs really need to be planted by late fall in order to ensure root growth and bloom. If you have some bulbs that didn’t make it into the ground before it started snowing, don’t worry. You still have another option. Many types of hardy spring flowering bulbs are well suited to forcing, which is the process of causing plants to bloom under unnatural conditions or at an unusual time. By potting your bulbs in containers and forcing them indoors, you can still enjoy a spring display of flowers despite winter’s arrival.
Forcing bulbs is quite easy, provided you follow a few simple steps.
Selecting Appropriate Containers
First, you need to select appropriate containers. Bulbs require good drainage, so it is essential that all pots have at least one hole in the bottom. Pots must also be deep enough to accommodate the growing roots (at least 8 inches deep for larger bulbs).
Selecting The Right Potting Mix
It is equally important to use a good quality soilless potting mix for planting such as can be found at most garden centers. Soilless mixes drain freely and will keep the bulbs from getting water logged and rotting, while at the same time providing stability and moisture.
Planting Your Bulbs
When planting, fill the container with a couple of inches of potting mix, and then arrange the bulbs within, making sure that their tops sit below the rim of the container. Bulbs in pots can be placed much closer together than those planted in the ground outdoors. Cover the bulbs with more potting mix and leave a little space at the rim for watering.
Chilling Your Planted Bulbs (3 to 4 months)
After the bulbs have been planted, it’s time to chill them. Hardy bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths require an extended period of cold temperatures between 35 and 50°F in order for them to initiate shoots and flowers. Any dark storage space that consistently stays within this temperature range will do, such as a cool basement, root cellar, or cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one. Unheated garages will work too provided that the temperature does not drop below freezing. While exposure to freezing temperatures will not damage the bulbs, it could cause ceramic pots to crack.
Forcing Your Bulbs Indoors
After the bulbs have been cooled for 14 to 15 weeks, they should be moved someplace warm and bright, such as sunny windowsill. This will cause the bulbs to start growing leaves and push up flower buds. Once the buds start to show color, move the pots out of direct light to prolong the flowering period. After blooming, some bulbs, such as daffodils and grape hyacinths, can be planted in the garden in the spring, although it will take them at least few years to fully recover.
So, if you have some bulbs left over that didn’t get planted this fall, give forcing a try. It can be a lot of fun and a good way to bring some spring cheer into the house in the late winter or early spring.
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