Sunday, October 31, 2010

Forcing Bulbs Indoors Generates Beautiful Blooms All Winter Long

There are many options for indoor flowering plants throughout the winter. Nearly every bulb variety can be “forced” or tricked into believing it is spring and time for them to shine. Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are great for forcing indoors because unlike many bulbs, they do not require a cold treatment. It usually takes only 3-5 weeks to see blooms from the time they are planted. The fact that they don’t require soil means minimal mess in the house, unless Tobias is “helping.” This is a great project for little ones so don’t hesitate to get them involved.

Like all projects, gathering your supplies and tools ahead of time lays the groundwork for a successful venture. You’ll need a container without a drainage hole, a filler medium, water and, of course, bulbs. That’s it. It can’t get any easier. Are you ready to get started?

Choosing bulbs
Select high-quality bulbs that are free of mold and mildew. For our purposes, we selected paperwhites which require no chilling. Amaryllis is also an option for the following process.

Choosing a container and filler
The ideal container is 3”- 4” deep. While any container without a drainage hole can be used, a glass container is preferred, especially for first timers and children. A glass container allows for easy monitoring of the roots and eliminates any guesswork when it comes to deciding when to move the container.

There are a variety of materials that can be used as filler. Pebbles, crushed rock, marbles, etc. are all good choices. The purpose of the filler is to provide stability and support for the plant as it grows. The filler should be made up of fairly small pieces so that the roots can fill in around them.
Spread 1-1/2” of filler in the bottom of the container. Set the bulbs, pointed side up, in the filler and use the remaining filler medium to support and fill in the gaps around the bulbs. Leave the tips of the bulbs showing above the filler. Add enough water for the water level to reach the bottom of the bulbs.

Storing the plant
For those of you who have been waiting for the “trick” to begin, here it is. You will need to find a dark, cool place for the plant to hang out for a few weeks. The ideal temperature is 55 – 65 degrees F. The plant believes it is winter and will start sending out roots.

It usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks for the roots to begin developing. When you can see the roots and the top of the plant begins to elongate, it is time to move them into the light. Find a sunny spot where the plant will be tricked into thinking spring has sprung. The more sun the better, but remember: the point is for the plant to think it is spring, not summer, so watch out for the temperature. After about one week, you will begin seeing several buds on each stalk.

Root development 
To prolong the growing season, stagger your planting over several weeks. This will provide you with beautiful plants throughout the winter months. While it is not advisable to mix bulb types in a container, give serious consideration to starting a variety of bulbs to take advantage of the full array of colors these plants can produce.
Once you are comfortable forcing bulbs like paperwhites and amaryllis, consider the other spring beauties: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and the like. These cold-treatment bulbs require more time and a bit different methodology, but are certainly worth the effort, especially in the dreary, cold winter days of January and February. If you are interested in learning more about forcing cold treatment bulbs, let us know.

We wish you the best of luck with your planting, whatever the season.

Rachael and Tobias

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