The Q&A Archives: Trying To Force Bulbs

Question: I am as far from a green thumb as you can get (I finally have a flourishing African Violet and philodendrum). This year I tried to force paperwhites (from a kit) and crocuses. The paperwhites grew tall, but then stopped growing and never bloomed, although there where buds coming up inside the leaves. The crocuses I put in the refrigerator for 12 weeks and them in a window. They never even took root. The only thing I can think of is that I put them both in windows on the same side of the house. Can it make that much of a difference? It did on the blooms of the African violet, but I know that they are specific about having morning light. Are all blooming plants like that?

Answer: Most plants have a range of light and other conditions which they will tolerate and then a slightly narrower preferred range. For example, while it is true that "in general" African violets do well in an east facing window they can do well in a southern window too as long as the light is filtered by something like a sheer curtain or they are set further back into the room where the light is less intense. They may also bloom in a northern window, at least during the summer when there is more light because the days are longer. Much of gardening is like this -- knowing the basic requirements and adapting the situation to suit.

Paperwhites are relatively foolproof so I'm not sure what happened there. They need to be potted about half the depth of the bulb into soil or gravel to anchor them, then kept slightly moist (but not soggy) if in soil or, if in gravel, they need to have water in the bottom of the container nearly up to but not touching the bottom of the bulb. They should be kept in a cool bright spot until eventually, they bloom. If your bulbs dried out or were kept very warm (such as in front of a heat vent or atop a radiator) the buds might dry out and fail.

The crocus should have been buried in the pot of barely moist soil, set into a partly closed plastic bag or watered occasionally so they would not dry out (frost free refrigerators are very drying as opposed to the old fashioned ones) and left to chill and form roots. Storing them in a refrigerator with apples and some other fruits can cause them to fail -- the fruit give off harmful gas as they ripen. Another possible reason for failure is that they were either too wet or too dry when put into storage or dried out while they were in there. Yet another possible reason is that there was something wrong with the bulbs when you got them -- poor storage or handling at any stage of the process from digging to replanting can cause failure, too.

I hope you won't be too discouraged. The first time I tried to force crocus they molded in the fridge and the buds went awry because of the apples, too.

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