Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2000
Regional Report

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Plant now to enjoy pots of daffodils blooming indoors in February.

Forcing Bulbs for Winter

I'm not planting any bulbs this fall. We planted several hundred tulips and daffodils last year, so we're on hiatus. I love them too much not to plant something, however, so I'm ordering bulbs for indoor forcing during the winter. The intense blooms of spring on my kitchen table in the middle of February are a delight, and pots of forced bulbs make wonderful holiday gifts.

All About Forcing

I've had good luck forcing most types of bulbs with some forethought and a good calendar. The term "forcing" seems so harsh, though - I like to think I'm gently encouraging them to bloom early. I have to fool them into acting as if they're emerging into spring warmth (in my kitchen) after a winter of darkness and cold.

Hardy bulbs need a cold period (usually 12 to 15 weeks) to grow roots. I pot up the bulbs now and place them in a cool basement until December. Once they have roots and the shoots start growing, a touch of warmth will wake them up as if it's spring. I bring the pots upstairs into a warm (60F) room and let them start growing. After another week I'll display them at room temperature (70F) for the blossom show.

An easy way to force bulbs is to buy pre-cooled bulbs that you only have to pot up and water. Tropical bulbs such as amaryllis and some narcissus such as 'Paperwhite' need no cooling period.

What to Force

My favorite way to display forced bulbs of tulips, narcissus, hyacinth, crocus, grape hyacinth, and dwarf iris is to plant them like a bulb garden, just on a smaller scale. For example, I've had great luck getting tall white narcissus, fragrant pink hyacinths, and deep blue grape hyacinths or bright yellow crocus to bloom in succession. If they are put in a cool temperature at the same time, they will bloom in the same sequence as the bulbs would bloom in the garden.

Bloomin' All at Once

To get all your bulbs to bloom at the same time, however, takes some thinking concerning their cooling periods, but it can be done. I plant them in separate small pots and time the planting so they will come into bloom at the same time. When they begin to color, I put all the small pots in one large pot and tuck a sheet of Spanish moss around the pots to tie them into a single presentation. Having a miniature bulb garden in the house lifts the spirit magnificently in the middle of winter doldrums.

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