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Fooling Mother Nature for a Touch of Spring

by Carole McCray

If you long for the fragrance of spring during the gray days of winter, try the technique of forcing bulbs and you can achieve a touch of spring indoors. From November through spring, forcing bulbs speeds up the normal blooming time from six months to nearly three. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, amaryllis, and narcissus are good choices to start with.

Bulb Selection

Select bulbs recommended by your Growise Center that are free of blemishes and bruises for best results. Large, firm bulbs yield multiple blooms, while loose bulbs allow for creativity with planters and are often less expensive than potted bulbs.

The Perfect Pot

Choose a pot that is at least twice as tall as the bulbs you are planting in order to ensure room for root development. Your Growise Center has attractive pots and can give you advice on the right pot for the job. Be sure that the pot you select has a drainage hole. Partially cover the hole with stone or a piece of broken terra-cotta to slow the water flow and to prevent the soil from washing out.

Putting It All Together

Your Growise Center can recommend the appropriate soil used for forcing bulbs. Loosely fill the pot halfway, being careful not to pack the soil down. Place the bulb on top of the soil and cover with loose soil until only the tips show through. Crowd bulbs in your pot for an effective display of blooms, allowing 1/4" (0.64 cm) between bulbs. Label pots with bulb name, color, and date.

Suggested Plantings

Set a dozen crocus corms in an 8" (20.32 cm) pot.

Plant several daffodil and hyacinth bulbs together in a 10" (25.40 cm) pot.

Mix shades of hyacinths--lavender-blue, pink and ivory.

Combine several jewel-toned tulips with white ones. Tulips need about twelve weeks to develop roots and bulbs should be planted flat side out.

Fooling the Bulbs

Forcing bulbs entails simulating winter conditions. Place the bulbs in an area where temperatures range from 350 F to 500 F (20 C to 100 C), such as a garage, an unheated basement, even the refrigerator.

Cover the pots with newspaper or a box. Water the plants every couple of weeks or when the soil is dry. Check the pots in eight weeks for root development. Bulbs are ready for their simulated spring when roots are visible through the drainage hole and stems are 2" (5.08 cm) high. Move the plants to a cool room without bright light and in a few weeks buds should appear.

Once buds appear, move the plants to a sunny spot and blooms will shortly follow. For long lasting blooms, keep plants out of direct sun and out of drafts. Water when the soil dries out and keep plants in a cool room at night. Once blooms fade, continue to water the plants in a cool room. Once the ground thaws, plant the bulbs outdoors.

Holiday Bulbs

Often the bright-colored trumpet-like amaryllis and the sweet-scented paper-white narcissus are forced for indoor blooms around Thanksgiving and the holidays, since they make great holiday gifts. When a snowy landscape in Mid-February is the scene from my window, my scarlet, quadruple-trumpeted amaryllis is preparing to explode with color for Valentine's Day.

The paper-whites are best discarded after blooming; however, the amaryllis can bloom the next year by placing them outdoors during the summer in their pots in the shade. After a light frost, move them indoors and set them on their sides in a dark closet or in a basement. Once it dies, cut it back to 2" (5.08 cm). By Early November, the tip of the flower bud should slowly emerge.

Pot the plant and place in a warm place with some sunlight and water again. Blooms should appear by December or January. Visit your Growise Center to learn more about these beautiful flowering bulbs.

Flowering indoor bulbs can lift a winter weary spirit. Lines from the Persian poem, "Not By Bread Alone," say it best:

If thou of fortune be bereft,

And in thy store there be but left

Two loaves--sell one, and with the dole

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

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