Itís not nice to fool Mother
Nature! Or that what weíve always been told, and in
most cases I would have to agree. When you force bulbs
you are indeed putting her to the test with just a poke
in the ribs by irritating the changes that would be
occurring outside if the bulb were planted. By making
spring come early you can enjoy blooming daffodils,
tulips and other bulbs inside in February.
Most spring blooming bulbs are
dormant during the summer. As the soil cools in the fall
the bulbs begin to send out new roots. This will
continue until the ground freezes. As the ground warms
in the spring the bulb comes to life and by using the
roots it already has it can send up its flowers quickly.
Each bulb requires a certain period of time to
"chill before it blooms. Crocuses require the least
amount of time and so are among the earliest spring
bulbs to bloom. Dwarf Irises, like crocuses, require
only about six weeks. Hyacinths prefer 12-15 weeks.
Daffodils need at least 12 and are better with 16 weeks,
as are tulips. So by starting a bulb's required chill
time early, we can force them to bloom early. It is
important to remember not to scrimp on their chill time.
If you would like to try your
hand at forcing bulbs, start off with good healthy
bulbs. Make sure they have no soft spots, or mold. Then
choose your containers. Be sure that it has drainage
holes. The worst enemy of bulbs is sopping wet soil. Put
some small stones, gravel, or broken pot pieces in the
bottom. You want to prevent the roots from coming out of
the hole but not the water. Next consider your potting
Remember bulbs come ready to go
so your planting mix doesn't have to provide nutrients.
But it is essential that it have good drainage. A mix of
60% peat, 20% vermiculite, and 20% perlite should do
nicely. Dampen it before you begin potting. Add so until
the pot is half full. Layer the bulbs in the pot as
tightly as you like. Itís OK for them to touch. If you
are planting tulips, place the flat edge of the bulb
against the edge of the container. The flat side is
where the first large leaf comes from and by placing
them all to the outside you will create a uniform
appearance to your arrangement. Most bulbs can take
double layer in the pot, so at this point just add
enough soil to cover all of the first layer of bulbs but
the tips. Put the second layer of bulbs in the pot,
being careful not to place them directly on top of the
underlying bulbs. Then fill your container with soil to
overflowing, and label it so you'll know what you've
Next you need to decide where to
put your bulbs to do their chill time. You can use a
refrigerator set at 40 degrees but remember to keep them
watered! Also be sure not to allow any fruit to ripen in
the firg that has bulbs in it. The fruit releases
ethylene gas, which is very toxic to bulbs. You can also
dig a hole 18 inches deep, place the container in it,
cover it with soil, and then a thick layer of mulch and
leaves to keep the soil from freezing (so you can dig
them up again). Be sure to mark the hole with a tall
stick so you can find it later. Other options included
placing your container in a box and surrounding it with
leaves and placing it in a garage or basement. The basic
idea is to give it a dark and cold (not freezing)
conditions. You can also use a cold frame.
After the correct amount of time
has passed, bring your container out and clean it off.
If the shoots that have emerged are white don't worry.
They will green up with light. Pick a cool spot to start
the forcing process. Keep them out of direct sun light
for a few days and turn the container one quarter turn
each day so the plants grow straight in the container.
Keep the pots watered, but not soaking wet. Once
blooming has started your flowers will last longer if
you keep them out of direct sunlight, and put them
someplace cool, (as low as 33 degrees) at night.
If you want to plant the bulbs
after they finish blooming cut the flower stems back.
Allow the plants to mature. After they wither store the
bulbs, pots and all, in a cool dry place until the fall.
Then plant them. Remember forcing bulbs stresses them
and it may take a couple of years for them to recover
and bloom again. Don't be afraid to experiment, and
enjoy your early spring flowers!