Why do I bother to pot hardy “Dutch” bulbs in October? Well, because they introduce spring to my home when the outside world is covered in snow. They provide terrific decoration, too. A bowl of blue Muscari (above) makes a stunning centerpiece for a February dinner party. And finally, because bulb-forcing is fun, fun, fun!
Hardy bulbs are a little more challenging to grow than tropical types. Tropical bulbs, which include amaryllis and Narcissus paperwhites, need only water, warmth, and light to send up their flowers. The hardy bunch –tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils to name just three — will only bloom after they’ve received a cold, dark rooting period.
Can you simply chill the bulbs, and then pot them later? Yes, you can. But speaking from experience, chilled-then-potted bulbs end up blooming at about the same time as their outdoor kin. If you want flowers in the depths of winter — I certainly do — then it pays to pot the bulbs right from the get-go.
If you live in Texas, that’s pronounced “git-go.”
To insure extra-early blooms, pot the bulbs in early-to-mid October. The bulbs will make their roots while in cold-storage, just as they do in nature. When introduced to sunlight and warmth in early January, they will bloom when you want them to — in late January or early February.
How to pot hardy bulbs. First, select a pot. You can use either plastic or clay containers, providing they are equipped with a drainage hole. Since I can’t bear the sight of plastic in my window garden, I use only clay pots and pans. A “pan” (pictured above) is a shallow pot intended for bulbs.
Add some well-draining potting mix. For large bulbs, such as daffodils, fill the pot only half-way with soil. For small bulbs, such as the crocuses I’m about to plant, fill the pot about three-quarters full.
For the initial moistening, I always place the pot right up to its rim in a sink or dishpan of water, and I leave it there until the soil has absorbed all the moisture it can hold. Thereafter, and only when the top inch of the soil feels dry, I apply water from the top.
Oh. I should probably mention that certain hardy bulbs can be grown without any soil at all. As I described in a previous post, I like to grow hyacinths in little water-filled vases.
Cold storage. Before they can bloom, all hardy bulbs require 10-12 weeks in a dark, cold (35-45°F) location. A spare refrigerator is ideal, but it must not contain ripening fruit. Fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can sterilize the bulbs.
No spare refrigerator for you? Then proceed as our great-grandparents did, and place the pots in a dark, cold cellar, garage, or attic. Although I start my bulbs extra-early in a spare refrigerator, I always move them to the dark closet in my unheated mudroom by December. The mudroom is sufficiently cold by then.
In January, bring your pots (and vases and bowls, if you have them) to a sunny but cool (65°F maximum) window.
Wanna save your forced bulbs for future planting outdoors? Then be sure to give them the love and care described in this riveting post.
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