Brighten up your indoor decor, patio, deck or balcony by forcing a few spring-flowering bulbs into bloom. Just plant, refresh and enjoy a few extra daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, crocuses and grape hyacinths this winter and spring.
All you need is a suitable container, well-drained potting soil, the bulbs, and a place to give the bulbs the necessary cold to force them to flower. Choose a container with drainage holes deep enough to accommodate the largest bulbs. Cover the bottom few inches of the container with well-draining potting soil. Place larger, taller bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in the center, surrounded by shorter varieties. They can be planted close together, about half the width of the bulb, with the necks of larger bulbs at or just below the soil surface. Place the tulips with the flat side of the bulb facing the pot for best presentation.
If you’re using a deep container, plant layers of bulbs for a sturdier, longer-lasting display. Place the larger bulbs on the potting soil near the bottom of the container. Cover these bulbs with soil and add smaller bulbs like grape hyacinths and crocuses to the next level. Plant these bulbs close together, covering the surface, for greater impact. Cover this layer with at least an inch of soil. Water thoroughly so that excess water drains to the bottom of the pot.
Move the container filled with bulbs to a cool location where temperatures stay above freezing and between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 weeks. A spare refrigerator works well for this. Just avoid storing bulbs in a refrigerator with fruits like apples and pears which emit ethylene gas which can negatively impact flowering. If refrigerator space is limited, you can store unplanted bulbs in a paper bag, so they take up less space in the refrigerator for the necessary cooling before planting.
Those gardening in colder climates can also store the pots in an unheated garage. Simply water the containers whenever the soil is thawed and dry. Or sink the container into a vacant garden space in your landscape. Mulch the ground once the ground begins to freeze with evergreen branches. Winter mulch makes it easier to recover the container in winter or spring.
Once the cold period of 12 to 15 weeks is over, you can start moving the pots indoors. Remove a few pots each week to extend the flowering time and your enjoyment. Place the pot in a cool, bright place to encourage more compact growth. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil begin to dry out. Soon the leaves will begin to sprout and the flowers will appear in about four weeks.
Provide ongoing care if you plan to move the bulbs around the garden. Remove spent flowers and place leafy plants in a sunny window and water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. Fertilize with a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer.
When the danger of frost has passed, you can move these plants into the garden if they are suitable for your growing conditions. These plants may not flower the following spring, but usually do the following year and for several years beyond.
Or you can throw the forced bulbs into the compost heap so they can return to your garden as wonderful compost.
Investing the time to force a few spring-flowering bulbs into bloom is sure to lift your spirits this winter. Consider planting a few extra pots of bulbs to do the same for your friends and family.