Do You Love Tulips, Daffs and otherBulbs of Spring, but Got No RoomOutside? (Or Hungry Squirrels?)
FORCE Some Spring Bulbs INdoors thiswinter!
Q. Is it possible to plantSpring bulbs in very large containers and leave the containers outduring the winter? (They're mostly daffodils—I have loads of 'tree rattrouble' and have had great "Spring bulb squirrel success" with daffs.)
---Jack Boyle; Merchantville, NJ.
A. Thank you,Jack! This is a GREAT question—for three reasons:
- This is the perfect time of year to explain the details ofgrowing Spring bulbs in pots.
- …and to remind listeners with malicious mammal troubles thatsquirrels don't dig up daffodils—neither will voles, deer, wabbits orgroundhogs chew upon them! This is because daffs are somewhere betweenreal nasty-tasting and slightly toxic. Anyway, they don't get bothered.
- It reminds me to discuss a great indoor forcing trick for thistime of year.
Anyway, allayou out there may be tired of hearing me say it, but unlessyou are in the far North, it is still too soon to plant your Springblooming bulbs without risking their sprouting this year and ruiningtheir Springtime show next season. But it is prime time to purchasethose Spring blooming beauties-to-be. And if you want to have some realwintertime growing fun, buy extra bulbs and force them into bloomindoors—at your command! We're not talking amaryllisor paperwhites, but REAL Spring bloomers that you generally only seeoutdoors!
You could grow a pot of redtulips—the flower that means "I love you"—for your honey forValentine's Day. Force a batch of beautiful little crocusor grapehyacinth for entry in a Springtime flower show. Or just brighten upyour indoors next March! All you need is a place that will stay niceand cool for the next three months—like an extra refrigerator or anunheated garage or basement that gets really cold but never freezes.
Some of the easiest bulbs to coax into bloom only require 12 weeks ofchilling; these include crocus (especially the large-flowered types),those stinky hyacinths,and miniature hybriddaffodils (not the full size ones—they need more sun than mostpeople can provide indoors). Two other tiny cuties—grape hyacinth and miniatureiris—also force well, but they need 16 weeks of chilling. No matterhow long the chilling, allow another 3 or 4 weeks for the blooms toappear afterwards.
Did you notice that tulips were NOT on that list of easy Spring bulbsto force? Did you, huh? Well, that's because they're not easy. But theyIS possible. Especially if you can locate one of these specific redvarieties: 'Brilliant Star'; 'Christmas Dream'; or 'Merry Christmas'.These puppies only require 10 weeks of cold treatment, which isimportant because tulips are the fussiest about temperature swingsduring their chilling period and 10 weeks is a lot less long than the16 it takes other tulips; a good 1/3 less long, to be retentive. Andthey're red, making them the perfect Valentine's Day choice—in the'Language of Flowers', red tulips are more romantic than red roses!(You can force other varieties of tulip—but like I said, they'll needat least 16 weeks of very even chilling.)
All you need is an extra refrigerator or some other place that you'resure will hover around forty degrees but not freeze for the next threemonths; and, of course, bulbs and pots. Any pots with drain holes willdo; in fact, the smaller the containers the better, so you can chillmore of them in a small space. Put a two-inch layer of pottingsoil in the bottom of the pot, then position the bulbs on top ofthe soil; their tops should be just the tiniest bit below the finalsoil line when they're covered. Really crowd the bulbstightly—especially the tiny guys; that's how they look best. Then fillin around them with more potting soil, water well and place the potswhere they can chill for the required number of weeks. If you use afridge, make sure it don't have no fruit in it (gases given off byripening fruit could cause the bulbs to sprout prematurely). And yes,you HAVE to pot them up (so they can grow roots); you can't just chillthe naked bulbs.
At the end of 'chilling time', water the pots well and place them in aspot with good indirect light and temps in the low 60s for a week orso. Then, when the shoots are a few inches tall, move the pots intobright light and higher temperatures—68 degrees is ideal—until theflowers begin to open. Then move them back into indirect light again,to keep the flowers fresh the longest possible time. But they don'thave to stay inside; if you have outdoor display space, go ahead andput your forced pots outside anytime after the risk of a really hardfreeze is over in your area. Start this nonsense right now, and you'llhave home-grown (indoor!) flowers to present to your sweetie onValentine's Day. Or maybe a blue ribbon from your local Flower Show!
PS: If you DO decide to do this, be sure to print out theseinstructions and put them in a Ziploc bag right with your pots, soyou'll know exactly what to do next year.
PPS: You'll find lots more details at the Netherlands Flower Bulb greatweb site, www.bulb.com.