The Q&A Archives: Can I Plant Bulbs Now

Question: I was given a variety of bulbs, paper whites, tulips, and others. Is it too late for me to plant and have them come up at spring?

Answer: Yes, unfortunately it is too late to plant them outside and have them come up in the spring. In your area (zone 7) it is best to plant your bulbs in mid-October to late November. Bulbs are fairly picky about the amount of time they spend in the ground before they are expected to flower. Because they probably won't perform well (or perhaps at all) if you try to keep them until next fall, you could "force" them for indoor bloom so they don't go to waste. For tulips this is accomplished by placing the bulbs in your refrigerator for about 12-14 weeks (keep them away from fruit though, gas released from ripening fruit can ruin the bulbs). Daffodil, crocus, and grape hyacinth require approximately 10-12 weeks of chilling in the fridge. Use containers with drainage holes on the bottom and place 3 to 5 bulbs per container in regular potting soil. Cover bulbs almost completely with potting soil and then place the container in the refrigerator. After the time period is up, (usually you will start to see shoots appear), bring the container into a lighted room and water well. Flowering should take place 3 - 6 weeks later. The blooms will last longer if they are kept in a cool room. Paper whites are a different story as they do not require a chilling period or even soil! Fill a pot or bowl (one without a drainage hole) to within 2 inches of the rim with pebbles. Fill the pot with water. Bury the bottom quarter of the bulb in the gravel, keeping most of the bulb above the water line. Set the container in a cool, (approx. 50 degrees F) dark place for several weeks. Keep the water level just beneath the base of the bulb, but not touching it. Keep the roots in water as the bulbs begin to sprout. When pale green shoots get 3-4 inches tall, move the pot to the bright indirect light of a north window for 3-4 days. Then set the pot in sun and move it back to indirect light when the flowers open. You do not need to fertilize. Bulbs are generally no good after forcing so it wouldn't do much good to plant them in the fall. Enjoy the show!

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