Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
November, 2010
Regional Report

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Forced hyacinths add a cheerful dose of color to a winter windowsill.

Spring Blooms Ease Winter Blahs

It may seem like "forcing an issue" to even suggest having crocus, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils blooming indoors in winter. Indoor bulb gardening is just that, giving Mother Nature some help to make spring-flowering bulbs come into bloom ahead of spring.

Now is the time to start the "forcing" process by taking advantage of the closeout sales on bulbs. Take time to carefully select the plump, solid, and blemish-free bulbs left on the shelves. These will produce the best results.

Terra cotta pots are my favorite, but clay, plastic and decorative containers will also do. Containers should be at least twice the depth of the bulb size and wide enough so you can plant a grouping for best effect. Make sure there are drainage holes to avoid water logging the roots. If using clay pots, I soak them overnight in a tub of water. They will clean up easily and are conditioned prior to planting.

I like to get the most out of each pot, by planting as many bulbs as will fit without touching each other or the sides of the pot. A six-inch pot can easily hold six to seven tulips or as many as 15 crocuses. Dense planting is more effective with the smaller bulbs.

Don't use garden soil but select a well-drained potting mixture. I start by filling the pot part way with soil mix so when the bulbs are planted, just the tips are visible. Then finish adding the potting mix and lightly firm it in with your fingers. Label each container so you'll know variety, color and date of planting. Follow up with a good watering to moisten the potting mix and settle the bulbs in.

To be successful in forcing bulbs, you must provide cold storage. Spring-flowering bulbs vary in the amount of time needed for cold storage, so you'll have to keep track. Find a spot where the temperatures are 40 to 50 degrees such as an unheated basement, insulated garage, even a covered window well. I like to keep an old, working refrigerator in a garage. The shelves make it easy to store several pots of potted bulbs and checking them is easy throughout the forcing process. The potted bulbs should be checked monthly and watered if the soil mix is drying. Roots are growing as well as stem and flower development.

Between 12 to 15 weeks of cold storage are needed, so checking containers on a regular basis lets you know when to bring the potted bulbs indoors. When the stems are about an inch tall and roots are visible through drainage holes, you can start to bring them indoors to light. If growth is insufficient, continue cold storage for another week or so.

I get the best results by placing conditioned bulbs in a cool room (60 to 65 degrees) in moderate light. Blooms will last longer. Set them in places where you can enjoy an early spring show and chase away the winter blahs.

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