Thursday, November 6, 2003
With our mountain community so drab here in the wintertime, a little color from fresh flowers can give us a needed boost at the time cabin fever kicks in. By forcing bulbs to flower indoors, you bring color and fragrance inside while getting a gardening fix, even as the ground is as hard as a brick.
Some of the easiest bulbs to force indoors are crocus, hyacinth, narcissus, iris, scilla and tulip.
The bulbs need a period of cold and dark before they will consider blooming. My friend Laura simply bags up her bulbs and places them under the snow or in a dark place outdoors for several weeks before bringing them indoors to pot.
Another recommended way to force bulbs to flower is to plant them in a container filled with potting soil, and place the pot in a cool, dark place (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 14 weeks). Use a spare refrigerator, bury in a mulch pile under the snow, or place bulbs in a cool garage or shed. Don't store bulbs in the same drawer as your vegetables or fruit because these give off ethylene gas which harms bulbs. Also, some bulbs are poisonous, so a refrigerator accessed by young children is probably not a good spot. Be sure to avoid placing the pots on an outdoor surface that experiences melting and freezing. I did that last year and found my pots quick-frozen to the patio. Oops.
When you pot the bulbs, allow about 2 inches of soil below the bulb. The number of bulbs you can place in a pot will vary according to the size of the pot and the bulbs. Feel free to crowd a lot of bulbs into the pot. They cab be almost touching, tips facing up, for a full, colorful display. The top of the bulb should be even with the rim of your pot, the bulb noses just peeking out of the soil. Water thoroughly by placing the pot in a shallow pan of water and allowing it to soak until the surface of the soil is moist. You shouldn't need frequent watering, but don't allow the soil to dry out completely.
After the chilling period, check for root development. If you see roots in the drainage hole or in the root ball under the bulb, move the pots to a cool (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit), well-lighted (not direct sun) spot to begin development of shoots. As the shoots come up, you can move the pots to a warmer, brighter location. Be sure to keep the soil moist throughout the blooming period.
On average, your bulbs will flower within 3 to 4 weeks after coming out of cold storage. To extend flowering, plant several pots of bulbs and pull them out of cold storage one or two pots at a time about every week.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.
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