Garden Journal

Forcing spring blossoming indoors a winter pursuit

December 24, 2013

Ah, winter - the short days, the long nights - what is not to love? You can force yourself to enjoy winter. Indeed gardeners actually “force” spring-blossoming bulbs into bloom indoors, You can easily bring some brightness into your home with potted bulbs. Try crocus, daffodils and tulips. The trick is to imitate their natural winter rest.

The best pots for forcing bulbs are azalea pots or bulb pans, which are pots that are more shallow than normal pots. They are usually just three-quarters of the height of normal-size pots.

That said, you can really can use any pot as long as it drains well. That’s because the pot and the soil will really only be holding the bulbs in place. A bulb has all the nutrients that it needs to bloom the first year. What you plant it in won’t provide any nutrients.

Fill your pot about halfway full of potting soil. Firmly press the bulbs into the soil. Always have the pointed end up. Arrange the bulbs closely together so the pot looks full when in bloom. Just keep each bulb from touching its neighbor.

Now gently cover the bulbs with potting soil and water well. After watering you may notice that the soil has settled so add more potting soil to fill the pots.

Set the planted pots in a cool, dark area for about 12 weeks or even longer. An unheated garage or porch can work. Try to keep the temperature below 48 degrees F. but not freezing.

You can even chill your bulbs in the refrigerator to mimic natural rest that they would experience in the outdoors.

You may notice roots starting to grow out of the drainage holes in the pots, or perhaps young green shoots popping out of the top of the soil. Now is the time to move them to a warmer place.

Begin warming the pots in the coolest room of your house and gradually move them into warmer areas. This keeps the flowers blooming longer.

To keep the plants growing straight be sure to rotate the pots a quarter turn every day. Make sure the soil is moist, but not soggy. Finally, with luck and patience your potted bubs should burst into bloom. After they have finished blooming cut off the dead flowers, but still water them as usual.

You can either toss out the bulbs or try to save them for planting outdoors in the spring. If you are saving the bulbs, (and why not?), then feed them with a diluted liquid fertilizer. Let the foliage die back naturally. Plant them outdoors as soon as the ground can be dug in the spring. Give them a sprinkle of bulb fertilizer or bonemeal. With luck, they will come back and bloom the following year.

Sadly, forcing anything takes a toll, whether forcing a child to eat broccoli or a bulb to bloom in the middle of winter, so your bulbs may not thrive even in the best garden soil. Let it be a lesson in life that you have to live in the moment, whether a dark winter or a sunny spring.