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Forcing Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Daffodils at the supermarket

These forced bulbs were at the supermarket

There are three ways to achieve flowering plants in your house during the winter.

First, you can think ahead and order bulbs for forcing. Paperwhites are the old standby, but you can force other daffodils, and there are many cultivars to provide you with a variety of form and color. In the early fall you will find a host of different daffodil bulbs at your local garden center or you can go online. By the same token you can easily find snowdrops, lilies of the valley, scillas also known as squills, and grape hyacinths more properly known as muscari. These can all be planted in the garden, or you can save some for forcing.

You will need a container with holes for drainage, and that will give you room for about three or four inches of potting soil. Forced bulbs are usually not used for planting in the garden after blooming, so they can be placed closely together. Water the planted bulbs lightly and put them in a cool, dark space for about two weeks. Then move the pot into a warmer, sunny location.

There is another easy way to force paperwhites. In the dim past I forced paperwhites in water. Paperwhites do not need planting soil. I had a square vase about eight inches tall. As directed, I put in three inches or so of white gravel, placed three or four paperwhite bulbs on the gravel, and then sprinkled in a few extra pebbles. I added just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Since the vase was clear glass I could keep that water level to prevent the bulbs from rotting. The bulbs sent out roots and shoots and then blooms, all nicely supported by the walls of the vase. You can see why it was important to have a clear glass vase. The vase also helped support the stalks so they wouldn’t flop over.

I did not think ahead  this year because I have three Christmas cactus and four amaryllis. I thought they would give me plenty of holiday bloom.

However, things did not go as imagined. Only one of my three Christmas cactuses bloomed.

None of last year’s four forced amaryllis were blooming as Christmas drew near. The amaryllis gave me a great show last year and I decided to try and get them to bloom again. When the season moved on to spring warmth I cut back the foliage and planted them in the garden, with the top of the bulb showing, just as I plant them in their pots. I harvested them from the backyard garden in September, cut off the foliage and let them rest in the dark. Then in mid-November I planted them in pots, just as they looked when I received them last year. Now one amaryllis has sent out four large leaves, but there is no sign of a plant stalk. One has sent out two smaller leaves. One has just started sending out a single leaf shoot. However the fourth bulb is sending up a vigorous flower bud and two young leaves are emerging from the bulb! All have gotten the same treatment, same planting soil, the same careful watering, and the same climate outdoors and in. You just never know for sure how plants will react.

The amaryllis are now on a table in my so-called office where they get southern and western sun. I am still watering them lightly. It looks like I will get at least one flower stalk and I will be very pleased and grateful.

Since the holiday and pre-spring flowery color I hoped for did not appear I punted. The second way to get color at this time of the year is to go to the Farmer’s Coop to buy some bulbs and make another try.

At the Coop I bought three sprouting paperwhite daffodil bulbs. I used potting soil and crowded the bulbs in a pretty bowl with drainage holes. They are now sitting in front of a window in the guest room where they will get bright light and some sun.

I also bought a bag of sunny yellow crocus bulbs. They were also sending out shoots. I planted these in a fairly shallow pot with more room for all 14 bulbs. With all those little shoots the plants look raring to go, so I am not following any of the usual instructions about cooling the bulbs and keeping them in the dark for a few weeks. We’ll just wait and see if these new bulbs are happy to be in a nutritious planting medium, with gentle waterings and bright light.

I have never been an expert houseplant gardener. This is at least partly because somehow the houses I have lived in have never provided me with appropriate spaces for potted flowers. Even, so I like having a few green potted plants in front of a window or two, and add color when I can.

The third way to get color immediately is to buy a pot of flowers in bloom.

Whether we are successful with a bulb forcing project or not, we can always add blooms to the winter months by stopping by Sigda Florists  for flowers, potted or bouquet, or even run to the supermarket for potted flowers that will bring you color and beauty. The winter outdoors has a more limited palette, but cheerful color can be yours indoors.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2019

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