Fooling Mother Nature: Forcing Bulbs

Hyacinth

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No matter how deep the snow, gardeners can stage spring with parlor pots of sweet-scented paper-whites, old-fashioned hyacinths, and dramatic amaryllis. Start now and don’t stop until every windowsill and side table is abloom with potted beauties. It’s a sure cure for the wintertime blues.

What is “Forcing Bulbs”?

“Forcing” is speeding up the growth of a plant or bulb to make it bloom on your own schedule. Forced bulbs can add color and perfume to your home office from fall to spring. Since bulbs contain all of the nutrients they need to grow and bloom, it’s not hard to force them. It’s a matter of timing and temperature, mimicking winter’s dark and cold to encourage root growth and trigger the chemical reaction that leads to flowering, then moving the bulb into strong light, as if spring has come.

Tips for Forcing Bulbs

  • To get the most impact from a pot of bulbs, plant daffodils or other bulbs in layers. Set the bottom layer snugly into compost or potting soil and cover with soil so that their noses are still showing. Arrange the second layer of bulbs so that they sit between the tips of the lower bulbs. Then add more soil to cover the bulbs completely and firm it with your fingers. Be sure to leave space at the top of the pot for watering and for a layer of coarse sand to help prevent the soil from drying out.
  • For a weeks-long parade of beautiful bloom, start bulbs at 10-day intervals. Pot a few extra bulbs for holiday gifts.
  • You can get potted bulbs to bloom again next spring if you keep them well watered and fertilized after they bloom, giving them lots of light until their foliage yellows. Then cut back on watering. When the foliage has withered completely, store the pots in a warm, dry place for the summer and plant the bulbs in the garden in the fall.
  • If you chill your bulbs in a refrigerator or a root cellar, be sure to keep them away from apples and pears. Ripening fruit releases ethylene gas, which can stunt flowering and growth.
  • The key to success in forcing bulbs is to keep them in a cool spot out of direct sun, even when they’re in bloom (they’ll last longer). Too much warmth, especially at first, will result in long, limp leaves and shriveled buds.

Now see our article about forcing flowering shrubs and tree branches for early bloom indoors!

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