Sunday, October 12, 2008

Forcing Bulbs

Forcing bulbs is a fun project for the fall, though you won't see the fruits of your labor until spring. Forcing bulbs means to trick them into blooming sooner than they would when planted outside. Some bulbs do not need to be forced, like paper whites or amaryllis. Others, such as daffodils, tulips, crocus or hyacinths need to be cooled before they will bloom. It is a little too late to force bulbs for blooming by Christmas but you can still get a jump on spring by doing it now. The Van Bloem web site has a page that explains how to do it and gives the weeks of cooling needed for each bulb type.

Most bulbs need 12-15 weeks of cool temperatures before they will bloom. After this period it generally takes another month for the blooms to actually set and open. I prefer to time my bulbs to bloom sometime in late January or February. There is usually plenty of color in the house in December, what with Christmas decorating and poinsettias. After that the house looks a little drab so it is nice to perk it up with some forced bulbs.

In this example I am using daffodils and crocus. You can use any type of container. If it is going in the house you would want to use a more decorative container. I am planning to put this out on the front porch so the container doesn’t have to look too nice. I think using a galvanized container would look nice, also.

Fill the container with potting mix, not garden soil, and place the bulbs pointy side up. In a 6" container Van Bloem recommends 6 tulip bulbs, 3-6 daffodil bulbs, 3 hyacinth and 12 crocus or muscari bulbs. In my container, which is more like a 10" container, I am using 4 daffodil bulbs and 5 crocus bulbs. Once the bulbs are in place, partially cover the bulbs with soil, water in and place in a paper bag.
Find a cool place to store the bulbs. Right now the coolest place is going to be in your refrigerator. I am having to evict the wine from the bottom shelf of the frig at least for a few weeks. Once the outside temperature has dropped sufficiently find a place that stays cool but does not freeze. My garden club friend Kathy, puts hers in the covered window wells in her basement. In 12-15 weeks bring the container into a warm sunny room. There should be green shoots about 1-2" tall emerging from the soil. They will continue to grow and form buds and finally open. This process will take about a month. Be sure to turn the container so that the stems don’t grow to one side, toward the light.

Bulbs do not have to be fertilized since they stored the energy for next year’s blooms last spring. I have had some people tell me that bulbs that are forced do not ever bloom again and they should be thrown out after the blooms are spent. This is not true. Once the bulbs have blossomed, you can fertilize them with a well balanced, all purpose fertilizer. If you want you can plant them outside in the ground at this point or allow them to grow in the container until later in the spring and then allow them to go dormant, remove them from the soil, dry them and replant them in the fall in the ground. The key is allowing them to continue the process of photo-synthesis and sending energy to the bulb to enable the plant to store up enough energy to bloom again the following spring.

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