Last updated on November 17th, 2012
WANT TO FILL YOUR HOME WITH COLOR AND FRAGRANCE THIS WINTER? Then do what I do, and pot plenty of Dutch bulbs in early October. From tiny blue anemones and fragile white snowdrops to big, fabulously-perfumed hyacinths (that’s pink ‘Fondant’ pictured above), these beauties from Holland provide in the depths of winter all the essence of an April day:
What do all of these bulbs have in common? Just as in nature, they require a cold, dark place in which to make their roots. This rooting period varies from 8-12 weeks. Consequently, if you want the bulbs to bloom way, way ahead of their normal outdoor schedule, it is absolutely essential to pot them in October.
Gallanthus. I pot these “Snowdrops” in early October for December bloom. They make a delightful holiday picture when placed between pink poinsettias on the parlor mantel. Plant 5 bulbs to a 4-inch pot, provide an 8-week rooting period in a cold, dark location and the green-ribbed, icy-white bells will emerge in a sunny but cool window 3 weeks later. Complete forcing directions are here.
Iris reticulata ‘Clairette.’ You’ve probably seen this tiny treasure outdoors in rock gardens. I can tell you the plant’s beauty is better appreciated indoors. There, on the glass shelf of a window garden, you can easily see the gracefully-arched, Persian-blue petals, each of them licked with gold and splashed with snow, that are perched atop 3-inch stems. Plant 5 bulbs to a 4-inch pot, then provide 12 weeks cold, dark rooting.
Species Tulips. Unlike their tall, familiar Dutch descendants, these ancient travelers from the Middle East are compact like the crocus, with small flowers in rich colors. ‘Dasystemon tarda,’ pictured above (click to enlarge), is distinguished by its sweet scent and white-edged, lemon-yellow flowers. Plant 5 bulbs to a 4-inch pot, and let them grow roots for at least 8 weeks in some cold, dark location. Here are more pictures of species tulips you can easily force.
Muscari. What a sweet scent this “grape hyacinth” brings to the window garden! I cram a dozen or so bulbs into a small blue bowl filled with pebbles and water, let them root for 10 weeks, and then force into bloom in an east window. The azure flowers look especially well in the presence of red or pink African violets. Watch me “plant” these blue-beaded beauties.
Crocus. Plant a potful of these in October, and in January you will have a stunning centerpiece for the dining table. Over the years I’ve successfully coaxed violet-stiped white ‘Pickwick,’ sunny ‘Golden Yellow’ (above), and maroon ‘Ruby Giant.’ All these require 10 weeks of chilling. I plant the bulbs this way.
Anemone. One year, I ordered 50 corms of this “Grecian Wind Flower,” and planted 49 of them beside my front porch. These in late March formed an alluring carpet of blue. As you can see, the 50th corm bloomed indoors, at the window in my upstairs bath. There I could study its true beauty: violet blue petals, and a green eye edged in white. Try this one, okay? Give it 12 weeks of cold and dark storage before bringing to light and warmth.
Narcissus ‘Erlicheer.’ This tazetta daffodil, which bloomed in my bedroom window back in February, 2010, enchants with 7-15 fully double, creamy-white, powerfully perfumed blossoms atop every stem. If you are getting married in February or March, trust me — this is the bouquet you want to carry. Read this post for complete forcing directions, which will tell you, among other things, that the bulbs need a cold, 10-week rooting period.
Tulips. These are always tempting to force, but beware the varieties you choose. The early single types, like pink ‘Christmas Dream’ (above), apricot ‘Bellona,’ white ‘Diana’ and purple ‘Van der Neer’ (which grows in my Serpentine Garden) are all dependable for February bloom. The double varieties rarely flower before late March. How I plant, chill and force tulips for a dazzling winter show.
Hyacinths. Who can resist the gorgeous color and legendary scent of hyacinths? Not me! I pot and vase dozens of these bulbs in early October, and then bring them out of cold storage (12 weeks is the minimum) at one week intervals. This way, their perfume can be enjoyed from early February through late March. You can pot the bulbs in soil, in the same manner as tulips, or force them in water.
Have I inspired you to plant a few Dutch bulbs for winter bloom? I certainly hope so!
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