Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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Many of the local garden centers are promoting bulbs this month to plant for color next spring. As you consider whether to pick up some bulbs for the garden, consider purchasing a few to bring fragrance and color inside your home during the drab winter.
Bulbs that are easy to force into an early bloom indoors include crocus, hyacinth, narcissus, iris, scilla and tulip, as well as the striking amaryllis, which can be found in stores this time of year.
Most bulbs need a period of cold and dark before they will consider blooming for you. My friend, Laura, simply places bulbs under the snow or in a dark place outdoors for several weeks before bringing them indoors to pot up.
Another way to force bulbs to flower is to plant them in a container filled with potting soil, and place in a cool, dark place — about 40 degrees Fahrenheit — for 12 to 14 weeks. Use a spare refrigerator, bury in a mulch pile under snow, or place in a cool garage or shed. But don’t store bulbs in the same drawer as your vegetables or fruit, which give off ethylene gas that harms bulbs. Also, some bulbs are poisonous, so a refrigerator accessed by young children probably is not a good spot to chill bulbs. Be sure to avoid placing the pots on an outdoor surface that experiences melting and freezing. I did once and found my pots quick-frozen to the patio.
When you pot the bulbs, allow for about two 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 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 place, but not in direct sunlight, 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 three to four weeks after coming out of cold storage. To extend flowering, plant several pots of bulbs and pull out of cold storage one or two pots at a time every week or so.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.