Do You Love Tulips, Daffs and other Bulbs of Spring, but Got No Room Outside? (Or Hungry Squirrels?)
FORCE Some Spring Bulbs IN doors this winter!
Q. Is it possible to plant Spring bulbs in very large containers and leave the containers out during the winter? (They're mostly daffodils—I have loads of 'tree rat trouble' 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 of growing Spring bulbs in pots.
- …and to remind listeners with malicious mammal troubles that squirrels don't dig up daffodils—neither will voles, deer, wabbits or groundhogs chew upon them! This is because daffs are somewhere between real nasty-tasting and slightly toxic. Anyway, they don't get bothered.
- It reminds me to discuss a great indoor forcing trick for this time of year.
Anyway, all you out there may be tired of hearing me say it, but unless you are in the far North, it is still too soon to plant your Spring blooming bulbs without risking their sprouting this year and ruining their Springtime show next season. But it is prime time to purchase those Spring blooming beauties-to-be. And if you want to have some real winter time growing fun, buy extra bulbs and force them into bloom indoors—at your command! We're not talking amaryllisor paperwhites, but REAL Spring bloomers that you generally only see outdoors!
You could grow a pot of red tulips—the flower that means "I love you"—for your honey for Valentine's Day. Force a batch of beautiful little crocusor grape hyacinth for entry in a Spring time flower show. Or just brighten up your indoors next March! All you need is a place that will stay nice and cool for the next three months—like an extra refrigerator or anun heated garage or basement that gets really cold but never freezes.
Some of the easiest bulbs to coax into bloom only require 12 weeks of chilling; these include crocus (especially the large-flowered types), those stinky hyacinths, and miniature hybrid daffodils (not the full size ones—they need more sun than most people can provide indoors). Two other tiny cuties—grape hyacinth and miniature iris—also force well, but they need 16 weeks of chilling. No matter how long the chilling, allow another 3 or 4 weeks for the blooms to appear afterwards.
Did you notice that tulips were NOT on that list of easy Spring bulbs to force? Did you, huh? Well, that's because they're not easy. But they IS possible. Especially if you can locate one of these specific red varieties: 'Brilliant Star'; 'Christmas Dream'; or 'Merry Christmas'. These puppies only require 10 weeks of cold treatment, which is important because tulips are the fussiest about temperature swings during 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. And they'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 need at least 16 weeks of very even chilling.)
All you need is an extra refrigerator or some other place that you're sure will hover around forty degrees but not freeze for the next three months; and, of course, bulbs and pots. Any pots with drain holes will do; in fact, the smaller the containers the better, so you can chill more of them in a small space. Put a two-inch layer of potting soil in the bottom of the pot, then position the bulbs on top of the soil; their tops should be just the tiniest bit below the final soil line when they're covered. Really crowd the bulbs tightly—especially the tiny guys; that's how they look best. Then fill in around them with more potting soil, water well and place the pots where they can chill for the required number of weeks. If you use a fridge, make sure it don't have no fruit in it (gases given off by ripening 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 chill the naked bulbs.
At the end of 'chilling time', water the pots well and place them in a spot with good indirect light and temps in the low 60s for a week or so. Then, when the shoots are a few inches tall, move the pots into bright light and higher temperatures—68 degrees is ideal—until the flowers begin to open. Then move them back into indirect light again, to keep the flowers fresh the longest possible time. But they don't have to stay inside; if you have outdoor display space, go ahead and put your forced pots outside anytime after the risk of a really hard freeze is over in your area. Start this nonsense right now, and you'll have home-grown (indoor!) flowers to present to your sweetie on Valentine'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 these instructions and put them in a Ziploc bag right with your pots, so you'll know exactly what to do next year.
PPS: You'll find lots more details at the Netherlands Flower Bulb great web site, www.bulb.com.