|Orange Tulips (DeeAnne White)|
What treats? Beautiful blooms from bulbs which have been made to blossom. Winter is coming and enjoying a bright flower inside while it is gray, cold, and icy can bring forth a “Bah, humbug to you, Old Man Winter!”
While many know this process as forcing bulbs, Art Wolk, award-winning flower exhibitioner and author of books on this topic, likes to call it bulb enticing. Whatever term you use, it refers to making a plant bloom ahead of its natural schedule.
|Paperwhite Narcissus (L: Clara S. & R: Debra B.)|
Often for sale as kits this time of the year, paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis are the easiest for beginners. Dr. Robert Nuss, Penn State horticulturist, explains that these bulbs have been prepared for flowering before they are ready for sale.
|Red Amaryllis (Univ. of Minnesota Extension Service)|
|Grape Hyacinths (Jacki-Dee)|
Typically, bulbs you want to bloom during the end of year holidays are planted the last week in September; however, bulbs planted later will still bloom during the gray days of winter. Consider planting several batches several weeks apart for continual bloom in the future.
|Pink Hyacinths (Tomy Lees)|
So, if you want to see Dutch hyacinths in February, plant them around mid-November allowing 11 weeks to chill. Shoots should start to emerge the first week in February. The chart below shows the chill period for commonly grown bulbs.
|Chill Chart (George Weigel)|
Bulbs can be grown in soil, a pebble filled bowl, or in water in a specially shaped bulb vase. To grow in soil, use a clean container with good drainage. Don’t use garden soil. Use a mix that drains well such as a mix of soil, sphagnum moss and perlite or commercial “soil-less mix.
|Planting a pot (Iowa State Univ. Extension Service)|
Fill the container three-quarters with the mix and sit the bulbs close to each other, root end down. If the bulbs have flat sides, turn these to the outside of the pot as that is where the largest leaf will come up. Add soil mix around the bulbs leaving the “noses” exposed. Water gently but thoroughly. Don’t let the soil dry out but don’t overwater.
If you are going to plant them in a pebble filled bowl (with water) or a bulb vase, you can pre-chill the bulbs in an open paper bag until roots begin to show. Then place them in the container and continue to chill for the remaining chill period, gently replacing the water every few days with lukewarm water. Check the Purdue Website for instructions on forcing bulbs in water.
|Pebbles or glass vase with water (Purdue Ext. Serv.)|
Paperwhites have a tendency to flop over so you might want to put them in a tall glass container, clear to see the roots or fill with shells or other objects.
|North Carolina State Extension Service (Michelle Pham)|
Simone adds that bulbs may be chilled in any cold, dry location such as an unheated garage or crawlspace with temperatures around 40° F. If storing in the refrigerator, don't store in the same cooler as fruits or vegetables, which give off ethylene gas that can harm the flower inside the bulb. Some bulbs are poisonous, so don't put them in the refrigerator if you have small children.
Bring in the Blooms
When the chilling period is over, gently remove a bulb to check its growth. When you see roots and about 2 inches of shoot growth, the pots are ready to bring into the light.Bring the pots into a cool location (55-65° F) with good sunlight. Keep the soil moist and turn the pots slightly each day to get uniform growth. Flowers should bloom within 2-3 weeks. To extend the blooms, keep them away from heat sources and move them to a cool area at the end of the day, bringing out for display in the morning.
|Amaryllis (La Fattina)|
Enjoy the treat of spring color during the dreary days of winter as you read through your garden catalogues. When the bloom is over, bulbs are usually discarded since forcing uses up their energy reserves so use their inspiration when planning the spring garden.
For more information check these links
Penn State Extension: On Gardening-Flowering Bulbs Can Brighten Winter
Penn State Extension: Forcing Bulbs
Penn Live: How to force bulbs to bloom inside in winter by George Weigel
University of Missouri Extension: Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom
University of Minnesota Extension: Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Beauty in Winter
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Home Forcing of Hyacinths
Iowa State University Extension: Forcing Flower Bulbs
Alabama Cooperative Extension Service: Force Bulbs for a Winter Bloom
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom (excellent resource for forcing in bulb vases)