Forcing Bulbs For Winter Blooms

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By John Toepfer

One thing I have found out about gardening is that good planning and a lot of patience often leads to benefits down the road. This is particularly true when you want to have beautiful spring flowering bulbs in bloom during the winter; when these bulbs are not really supposed to be in bloom. Believe it or not you can have tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs flowering in your home during the winter months. This is a process known as “forcing” and with proper planning you can enjoy a little bit of spring in your home months before it actually arrives.

The process of forcing involves “tricking” the bulb into thinking it is spring and to do this you need to duplicate the period of cold that the bulb requires and receives during the winter months. This chilling period will vary depending upon the type of bulb you want to force. Larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips require a 12 to 16 week chilling period while smaller crocus and grape hyacinth bulbs would require an 8 to 12 week chilling period. So, if you want to have flowers in January you might have to start the chilling process in September and if you want to have blooms throughout the winter you might have to stagger the chilling process by chilling bulbs in September, October, November and December. I told you that it would take some planning!

The first thing you should do is make sure that you start out with high quality bulbs. The bulbs should be firm with no bruises or cuts and free from any mold or fungus. Take a six-inch pot, make sure it has drainage holes, and put as many bulbs as you can in the pot without allowing the bulbs to touch one another. This would usually mean perhaps six tulip bulbs, three daffodil bulbs or 15 crocus or grape hyacinth bulbs. You will then fill the spaces between the bulbs with potting soil until just the tip of the bulb is showing. Label the pot so you remember the type of bulb that is in the container and date you planted it and water the bulbs thoroughly.

Now comes the chilling part. You want to put the bulbs in a cool, dark place where temperatures are maintained in the 35 to 45 degree range. An unheated attic, basement, garage or even better a refrigerator are good places to chill the bulbs. If you put the bulbs in your refrigerator you may want to keep them away from fruits and vegetables as these foodstuffs will emit something known as ethylene gas which can damage the bulbs and impact the blooms. You should check the bulbs regularly to be sure they don’t dry out but be sure not to water them too much or the bulb can rot. Once you see roots coming out of the bottom of the pot it’s time to move the bulbs to a sunny room but not in direct sunlight. Blooms will begin to appear and the blooming period will usually last two to three weeks.

The one unfortunate consequence of forcing is that it drains so much energy from the bulb that it will never be able to bloom again. You can either put the exhausted bulbs on the compost pile or put them in the trash. So if you have some extra spring flowering bulbs and if you want to brighten up your home with flowers this winter you may want to give forcing a try.

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