How the Grinch potted up Christmas

One of the easiest ways to force bulbs is to fill a bowl or tray with gravel or decorative stones.
November 7, 2012

You’re wrong as the deuce, And you shouldn’t rejoice, If you’re calling him Seuss. He pronounces it Soice (or Zoice).

So in spite of his own efforts to keep his name German, Dr. Seuss came to be pronounced to rhyme with goose. And one of his best-known books became a classic movie and play, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Though Christmas is a ways away, you have to plan, and plant, now for Christmas blooms. By faking spring, we can trick bulbs to bloom indoors. Like the Three Wise Men, there are three familiar ways to force bulbs: in water, in pebbles with water and in soil.  Choose bulbs that are firm and solid, not mushy or lightweight.

One of the easiest ways to force bulbs is to fill a bowl or tray with gravel or decorative stones, then set the bulbs firmly into the pebbles so the bulbs stand upright.

Next, fill the bowl with water just up to the bottoms of the bulbs.  Be careful that you let the water just barely touch the bulbs. Clear glass dishes or bowls work well because you can see the water level and watch the fascinating development of the roots. The idea is for the roots to grow into the water, while the bulb itself stays dry.

Your bulbs will bloom better with stronger stems if you put the planted bulbs in a dark spot for about four to six weeks to form roots before you bring them out into the warmth and light to boom.  Pebbles and water is a wonderful way to force crocus, hyacinths, daffodils, and early tulips.  Paper whites are delicate forms of narcissus that do not need chilling to bloom.

Another method of forcing for Christmas is water forcing.  

Use a glass vase or jar, or even buy a specialty hyacinth glass with a tapered neck and wide lip at the top that holds the large hyacinth bulb in place. With a hyacinth glass, your work is done before you start.  Simply fill the glass with water as high as the tapered neck, and place the hyacinth bulb on the broad mouth of the glass so the base of the bulb just barely touches the water.  That’s it!

Put the hyacinth glass and bulb in a dark area for about four weeks until roots form, then bring it into a warm sunny spot where it will bloom. You can also stick four toothpicks into the hyacinth bulb and suspend it from the lip of a glass or vase.  Again, fill with water so the base of the bulb is just barely touching the water.

You can also simply plant up bulbs in potting soil.  Clay pots or shallow clay bulb trays work best as the clay lets the soil breathe.

Fill your pots about two-thirds full of commercial potting soil.  Set the bulbs firmly in the soil and cover completely with more potting mix.

It’s OK if the tops of the bulbs are poking out of the soil.  Water well and place the planted pots in an unheated garage or basement where they won’t freeze.

Some gardeners bury the pots up to their rims outside, and then cover with a few inches of mulch.  After about two months, the potted bulbs will have good root systems and can be taken inside to force their blooms.

Keep your flowering pots on the cool side; higher temperatures can make the plants tall and spindly.  Once the bulbs begin to form flower buds you can keep them at warmer temperatures. After the holidays fade and your flowers along with them, you can either just toss the spent bulbs into the compost heap or try putting them outdoors directly in the garden.

Because the bulbs have used all of their saved energy for the forcing, they will not bloom again without a rest and recovery. Pot up some bulbs or put paper whites in a dish with pebbles, and come Christmas you will have fragrant blossoms that no Grinch can steal.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.