Every fall I pot up a variety of bulbs and then gently persuade them to bloom during the winter months. Nothing is more uplifting than to have daffodils, and hyacinths blooming in your home, while it is snowing outside. Persuading bulbs to bloom takes patience. It is really just fooling the bulbs into thinking that they have rushed through autumn, winter and then have entered spring. Some call it a gentle art.
I have learned through trial and error, and now I expect good results.
The roots are very visible on the daffodil bulbs. These were potted up on October 14th, and this is showing just 4 weeks of growth. I like to use water with stones. If these were potted up in soil, I would not be able to see the root progress. I did pot up a few crocus in potting soil, and I also potted up several large containers of daffodils in soil.
When forcing bulbs, size does matter, and you need to use quality bulbs, especially if you wish to keep the bulbs rather than throw them out. I have never thrown out a forced bulb. I plant them in the garden after the foliage has died off. Some may take a few years to regain the strength to bloom. I have noticed that it is generally the water forced bulbs that take a few years to bloom. Here are a few of the previously forced hyacinth bulbs blooming in my garden. As you see, they are not as full as a first year hyacinth bulb that was directly planted in the fall, but they still add color.
I have always used the special jars for the hyacinths. This bulb has had 4 weeks in the chill room. Sometimes if you buy a chilled hyacinth bulb, it will come with the jar. You can also find the jars on line, there are a few sellers that carry them. They also need the 14 weeks of cooling. After they have bloomed inside, I will plant them outside when the soil is workable. I have planted all of the forced hyacinths under a cherry tree, and now I have a nice little display.
The picture above shows the crocus potted up using potting soil. I just use soil that I would use for my house plants. The crocus don’t require as long of a chilling time. They are usually good to bring inside after about 10 weeks. They will look like grass growing, and then suddenly blooms appear.
I have used a few ways of chilling the bulbs. A small refrigerator worked for a while, and I would still use it, but I needed more room. If you do use a refrigerator, you can not keep fruit with the bulbs, and it is best to use a refrigerator that is NOT frost free. The frost free refrigerators will suck the moisture from the bulbs over time. I would think that if you use the frost free refrigerator, then you will need to check the moisture levels more often.
The ideal temperatures for the chilling period is above freezing to about 48 degrees. This can vary a bit, but it is very important that they do not freeze. I have a cold storage room, that I imagine was once used as a root cellar. It is ideal. Bowie spends his winter there. His water never freezes . This is what made me realize that this room would be ideal. I did install a cat door for Bowie to come and go . You can see the door to the left of the pots.
Bowie, relaxing under the coffee bench during a warm summer day. He is still doing great and is a good gardening pal to have around.
You can use a basement, if it is chilly and dark. If you don’t have the dark factor, the bulbs can be covered with boxes.
When forcing bulbs, you will want to plant them much closer together than you would out in the garden. I also try to use double or even triple nosed daffodil bulbs in order to have a nicer display. The bulbs can be almost touching, and they can be touching the container.
If you are using the water method, you have to make sure that the water level remains just below the bulb. You don’t want the bulb to be sitting in the water as it can rot the bulb. I usually check the bulbs once a week to make sure the water is below the bulb, adding water as needed, and I touch the soil, to make sure it is just slightly moist. Top growth will begin after the roots have started. Some books on forcing that I have read , stated that when the top growth is about one to two inches tall, the bulbs can be brought inside. I found that I have much better luck, if I just wait it out, regardless of the top growth. The daffodils really need the 14 weeks. So for me, I will start to bring them in around January 20th. You can stagger when you bring them in, so that you have some staggered bloom. Being in the chill a little longer won’t hurt. When I do bring them in, the top growth is not very green. I will put them in a back bedroom that is not as warm as the rest of the house. You can not put them in a brightly lit room at first. The top growth will start to green up, and you will start to see buds. After a few days of adjustment, I move them into a larger room that is well lite, but never in direct sunlight.
The last step is to just enjoy!!!