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Bring spring indoors by forcing bulbs

Do you wish you could bring spring indoors?  If these cold winter days have you looking forward to spring and flowers, with just a little planning it Is possible to force spring bulbs to flower indoors during late winter or early spring.

Forcing is basically inducing a bulb to produce its leaves and flowers at a different time than it normally would. To force bulbs, you mimic their natural growth pattern — a dormancy period (which mimics fall) followed by a cooling period with root growth (to mimic winter), then a gradual warming period (to mimic spring), during which leaves form and the bulb blooms.

Daffodils and hyacinths are easy to force and a great choice for your first time. Other good choices are snowdrops, grape hyacinths and crocus. Tulips are slightly more difficult (be sure to plant flat sides of the bulbs against the edge of the container) and take a bit longer to bloom but are well worth the effort. Be sure to choose only the largest, best quality bulbs for the purpose of forcing.

Once you’ve selected your bulbs, choose a container with good drainage. There are also specially designed vases available for forcing bulbs. Use a commercially available soil-less potting mix. To avoid disease and watering issues, do not use ordinary garden soil.

Place some soil-less mix in the container to fill it about one-third full, then place the bulbs on the soil. Arrange the bulbs with the flat sides against the edge of the container as the first leaf will grow from that side and will make the best-looking planting.

Plant the bulbs close together in the pot to get an attractive display when they bloom (put in as many as will fit into the pot, and they can be touching each other). Place additional soil around the bulbs, leaving the growing points of the bulbs exposed. Then water them and store the pots in a cool place (35-48 degrees) for 12-14 weeks.

An unheated garage works well for this. If you choose to use your refrigerator, do not store apples or other fruit with the bulbs as the ethylene gas given off by the fruit can harm the bulbs. Check the pots often during this cooling period to be sure they don’t dry out.

After the cool period, bring the pots indoors and water them thoroughly. At this time the bulbs may have small shoots showing, and these shoots may be yellow if the pots have been stored for cooling in a dark place. But no worries, they’ll turn green quickly.

Place in a cool (50-60 degrees) sunny location in your home. Once they begin to grow, you can move them to a warmer location to enjoy the flowers. Moving them back to a cool place at night will help the flowers last longer, as will keeping them out of warm drafts from a heater or fireplace. Most spring flowering bulbs will take 2-4 weeks (depending on species) to bloom once brought out of the cooling area.

Paperwhite narcissus are readily available in garden centers this time of year and do not need a cooling period. Just plant the bulbs in soil-less potting mix or even small pebbles in a shallow container and they’ll be ready to show off in just a few weeks. Once the flowers are spent, paperwhite bulbs are generally discarded as they most likely won’t bloom reliably again.

Amaryllis can also be readily purchased this time of year and, like paperwhites, do not need cooling. Amaryllis can be planted in a pot with the upper half of the bulb exposed. Place amaryllis in a sunny, warm place in your home until flower buds form and show color, then put it in a cooler spot away from direct sunlight to enjoy the spectacular flowers.

For more information on forcing spring flowering bulbs and many other gardening topics, contact the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Berks County at or phone the office at 610-378-1327.

Dawn Ziegenfus Knepp is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

Source: Berkshire mont

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