How To Force Freesia Bulbs

October 18, 2009

IN FEBRUARY, my window garden is filled with the most delicious scent in the world — that of Freesia lacteal. This South African traveler is very easy to grow, for the bulb doesn’t require a chilling period. However, the top-heavy flowers on thin, arching stems do benefit from support of some kind. And the best time to arrange that support is at planting time in autumn. Here is my easy method for planting, staking, and forcing freesia indoors:

In October (or November at the latest), fill a crocked clay pot half-full with any well-draining mixture (I use 2 parts leaf mold to one part perlite). A six-inch “azalea” pot will accommodate five bulbs. Arrange the bulbs with their sprouting points up.

Next, plunge a two-foot-long bamboo stick beside each bulb. Bamboo sticks are available at any garden center. To hold the sticks in place, simply firm the soil around them.

Add more soil to barely cover the bulbs, and then press gently to firm. As always, leave a one inch opening between the soil surface and the top of the pot to allow for watering. Soak the pot well, and thereafter, provide just enough water to maintain even moisture. The soil should never be allowed to dry out, nor should it be so saturated as to invite rot.

Full sun and cool temperatures are two conditions that encourage strong growth. My own pots go in the south-facing bay in my Music Room. Because I removed the storm sashes from this window, the bulbs enjoy nighttime temperatures there between 45-55 degrees, and daytime heat that rarely exceeds 65 degrees.

Freesia is one of the more generous plants you can grow, with three to five flowering stems per bulb. These do not emerge all at once, but in a long, luxurious, scented-sequence. When the first budded stem appears, tie it loosely to a stake. Then, about a week later, when the first crop of flowers begins to fade, cut the stem, and tie the next in line to bloom, and so on.

If you order freesias from a bulb specialist, as I do, you can choose from single and double forms in a palette of blue, pink, white, yellow, or red. Last year I planted ‘Double Red’ (above). This made a gorgeous winter picture in conjunction with yellow Narcissus ‘Golden Dawn,’ and blue hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ which bloom at the same time.

Honestly, you will find that freesia is only slightly more difficult to force than a paperwhite narcissus. And its perfume — an exquisite blend of honey and plum — will make you forget all about the frozen world outside. I can’t imagine spending a winter without this amazing plant.

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Related Posts:
Steps to a Beautiful Window Garden
Forced Bulbs: What to Keep, What to Toss
How I Force Tulips for Winter Bloom

Comments

  1. Samantha says:

    Kevin, thanks for the freesia tips. I had no idea it could be forced for winter flowers. If I can find any freesia bulbs, I'll give them a try.

  2. Holly says:

    Well, I'm happy to have any blooming plants that will mitigate the depressing season of winter! They don't sell freesia corms at my local home depot, at least not during the autumn months. But I see that easytogrowbulbs.com has a nice selection.

  3. Holly, here in the Northeast, freesias are not hardy. That's why most garden centers don't offer the bulbs or corms in the fall. I hope you'll force some lovely variety obtained from a catalog or mail-order source.

  4. Gardenlady says:

    Kevin, I imagine the “real thing” is so much nicer than the synthetic freesia-scent found in bath gels and body lotions. Is there any comparison?

  5. Gardenlady – You are right. There is no comparison!

  6. Eric says:

    Since the bulbs are not hardy, could they just as well be forced in pebbles and water? Or does that present a problem because staking is needed?

  7. Eric – I should think that freesia would grow in pebbles and water, but I'm afraid that staking, at least as I practice it, would not hold up in such a medium.

  8. Hani says:

    Hello Kevin. Right now my freesias are growing leaves by a window facing East. I have no windows facing South and unfortunately I cannot find a spot in my house that's cooler than 69 degrees all day and all night. Do you think they will bloom?

  9. Hani – welcome! I think your freesia will bloom in a sunny east window. However, because of high temperatures, growth will be spindly, and the flowers won't last long. Nevertheless, you will get to enjoy the incredible perfume, if only for a short while.

    Hope to “see” you again!

  10. Hani says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I guess I can move them to the basement where it's a little cooler but they'd be getting a little less light. I'm just glad someone out there appreciates freesia as much as I do. If they bloom, Febuary will be a lot more tolerable here in Minnesota.

  11. Hani says:

    Well, they sure bloomed! The first flower opened mid January and now two red clusters are almost fully open with many other clusters still waiting to start opening. This is much more than I was expecting and the fragrance is truly making us feel like spring is already here, although the world is covered with snow with temps below freezing outside. Thanks for your advice, Kevin!

  12. Hani – So glad they bloomed for you! I'm certainly enjoying mine (see February 2 post). Isn't the fragrance divine?

  13. Hani says:

    Yes. The fragrance is definitely the single best flower I ever smelled. My wife and I focus on having something fragrant growing at any given time of the year. This spring we're expecting fragrant crocus, fragrant daffodils, and fragrant tulips to pop up. So exciting!

  14. Dana says:

    Dear Kevin, I followed your guide and I planted some double mixed and white freesia a month ago. They emerged rather quickly and the leaves are now between 11″ and 17″ in height. However, recently the leaves started to develop some brown spots and stripes along the edges, and in the last two days these spots increased in size and the leaves started to look a bit less well. The pots (plastic) are kept in front of an uninsulated window facing north at a temperature varying between 52F and 63F. Possibly they may touch or may get very close to the window which at times can be drafty. I started to be worried about these freesia and I do not know what I should do to help them other than to move them on the part of the window which is double and less drafty. What do you think they may not like? Do you have any recommendations? Do you think they will bloom? I see no trace of a flowering stem so far, only three leaves per bulb which are still growing. How long does it normally take until the flowering stems appear? All my flowers are disease-free and the soil in which they are planted has been tested before with very good results. I started feeding them with regular plant food, but that did not seem to improve the situation, on the contrary. Thank you very much for any suggestions. Best regards, Dana.

  15. Dana – My freesia always blooms in mid to late February; sometimes in March. So don't worry if flower stems haven't emerged from your bulbs yet.

    As for browning foliage, you could be over-watering the bulbs. That's why I grow mine in clay pots; clay absorbs excess moisture.

    Brown spots can also appear when bulbs are over-fed. I'd withhold all fertilizer for awhile and see what happens.

    Freesia enjoys lots of sun. Thus, if you have a sunnier window than a north one, move the pots there. Otherwise, freesia is not bothered by drafts. My own plants are in an extremely drafty window.

    Anyway, I suspect your bulbs will still bloom. Just hold off, as I've said, on fertilizer, and take care not to overwater. If your bulbs are in pebbles and water — something I've never tried — then just eliminate food.

    I hope you'll report back on your bulbs' progress.

  16. Dana says:

    Kevin – Thanks a lot for all your great advice. Now that I think about it I might had over-watered them and fertilize them a bit too early. A north window is all I have but I could possibly add a growing light if they survive the spots. You make a very good point about the clay pots and now I understand why you use them for all your plants. I wish there could be unpainted clay pots of different colors too.

  17. ~*Connie*~ says:

    I tried planting them and got great plants, but no flowers. :( Not quite sure what I should do at this point because it has been months since the first shoots came up.

  18. Connie – Maybe you planted them too soon, before the embryo flowers within the corms had developed. I always plant mine in autumn, usually October. They grow lots of grassy foliage, and then bloom profusely in February.

    Thus I think you have 2 choices: live with all the foliage until winter, and HOPE you get blooms; or start all over by planting fully ripened, quality corms in October (or November at the latest).

    Probably not what you wanted to hear, right?

  19. ~*Connie*~ says:

    Thank you so much for replying.

    I'm in Maine, so I planted them when they came out for sale. Do I consider these bulbs spent (are they annuals?)

    I tried several different ways planting them in the ground (late summer/fall for spring didn't work, nor did early spring) so I was hoping that container planting would work.. I adore freesia and so wish to be able to grow it..

  20. Connie – Well, then they should will bloom for you. But not until February.

    I've never had difficulty with freesia, although the foliage can be a nuisance when it gets really long. This grassy inconvenience, however, is all forgiven when the fragrant blossoms emerge over a long period.

  21. Barb says:

    Hi Kevin, I never realized that Freesia bulbs could be grown indoors. I love how long Freesia’s last when I buy them at the store as gifts. I’m anxious to try this process. Are you able to mention a mail order place that supplies you with these bulbs? Also, could these then be planted in my garden in the spring in the Chicago Midwest? What do you do with the bulbs after they flower, the same as with tulips? Thank you for this information.

  22. Hi Barb – I buy Freesia online from Easy to Grow Bulbs (dot) com. The bulbs are a cinch to force for indoor bloom. Freesia isn’t hardy where I live (New York’s Hudson Valley, zone 5-b), so I don’t keep the bulbs after forcing.

  23. Linda says:

    I planted Freesia bulbs two years ago, and got nothing. This year I carefully and lovingly planted more bulbs (indoors) using all the techniques that have worked on other house plants.

    This year I got TONS of foliage fronds, great long, healthy green fronds… so I was doing SOMETHING RIGHT. No flowers. Not one. Where did I go wrong?

  24. Hi Linda – Freesia first produces great gobs of foliage. Then, in February, the flowers emerge. Lack of flowers means the bulbs were not properly fed the previous year. And that is the fault of the grower/seller — not you!

  25. Terri says:

    I bought freesia already planted and blooming in a pot in May. Can I leave them in the pot and cut back dead blooms and leaves and put them in the dark, then bring them back out in October and start watering and feeding? Or should I take them out of the pot and re-plant in the fall?

  26. HI Terri – If you religiously fed and watered the bulbs while they were actively growing, then they might bloom for you next year. I’d leave them in the pot, and keep them in a dark and definitely dry location over summer. In October, provide full sun, and water as necessary. No need to feed until after the flowers emerge. Good luck!

  27. peggy says:

    I just came upon your blog today….Sooo much different info.!!
    THANK GOD FOR KEVIN except for the fact that I was supposed to be in my garden 2hrs ago before it gets too hot.

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