In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
Colorful and cheerful tulips are welcome during the winter. (Photo courtesy of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)
Planning for Spring in Winter
It may seem like I'm forcing an issue to suggest spring blooms in the dead of winter. But indoor bulb gardening is just that, giving Mother Nature a little nudge to make spring-flowering bulbs come into bloom in January and February. You can have colorful pots of tulips, fragrant hyacinths, crocuses, daffodils, and others in full bloom to add cheer in the dreary, cold winter months.
This is the time to get the process started, while there is still a supply of spring bulbs in the stores. Many different kinds of bulbs can be forced into bloom, but not every variety is well suited for forcing. I suggest that you purchase the bulbs at a reputable garden center that can make suggestions and answer your questions.
Steps to Forcing Bulbs
Select bulbs that are plump, solid, and blemish-free. The larger bulbs produce the biggest flowers. Avoid bargain basement bulbs that are undersized because they tend to produce small flowers.
Crocuses and hyacinths will bloom indoors as early as January, while tulips and daffodils will follow a short time later. Hyacinths are perhaps the easiest to force, and they provide a sweet fragrance. Among the daffodils good for forcing are yellow and white trumpets, tazettas, and small-cupped varieties. Grape hyacinths (Muscari) and Iris reticulata are some minor bulbs that are good for coaxing into bloom, too.
Containers for planting bulbs should be at least twice the depth of the bulbs you select. This is necessary so there is adequate space for healthy root growth. Ceramic, wood, plastic, and clay pots, all with drainage holes, are good choices. Pre-soak new clay pots before using.
I like to use a commercial potting mixture that has good drainage. Avoid using garden soil because it tends to compact and stay too wet. Fill each container part way with the soil mix, nestle the bulbs close together but not touching so the tips of the bulbs is about 1 inch below the rim of the pot. Add more soil mix to cover the bulbs. Then give them a thorough watering to settle them in and start the rooting process.
Bulbs potted in containers need a cool storage area to start root growth, just like their counterparts outdoors. If you have an unheated garage that is insulated but cool, set the potted bulbs in an accessible spot. You will need to water the containers periodically as the potting mix begins to dry out. A cool crawl space, insulated outdoor garden shed, or window well can be used for the chilling phase, too. Check the bulbs every few weeks for moisture and signs of growth.
After a period of 10 to 12 weeks, check the potted bulbs for emerging shoot growth. When shoots reach 1 to 2 inches, it's time to coax the bulbs into bloom indoors. Bring them into a cool room with bright light. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and get ready for a spring show in the midst of winter.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!