The late winter through the early spring months in Tampa provide some of the most enjoyable days of the year for being outside, but what about inside your home? Or perhaps you are a transplant to the South, recalling spring bulbs peeking through the frozen ground as a sure sign warmer weather was on its way. Forcing spring bulbs indoors in containers adds a touch of cheerful color to a room and makes a wonderful centerpiece for a table.
Inducing bulbs to bloom when you want them to, rather than when usually do in nature, is known as forcing. In cooler climates, most bulbs are dormant with little if any active root growth and no shoot growth in late summer. As soil temperatures cool, the bulbs begin root growth, which continues until the temperatures become very cold. Shoot growth begins in the spring as temperatures begin to rise, and is followed soon after by flowering. After the bloom period, foliage continues photosynthesis and replenishes food stores in the bulbs. As foliage begins to die back, the bulb returns to a dormant state and the cycle is ready to begin again. Forcing is simply manipulating this cycle.
All spring bulbs require a period of dormancy before they can bloom. Normally, they rest over winter. But you can simulate winter rest in your refrigerator or cold basement to force the bulbs early. This simple technique produces stunning results in a very short time (about eight to 14 weeks).
Before most spring bulbs, with the exception of paperwhite narcissus, will sprout and produce flowers, they need a chilling period to simulate winter. Without this period, the bulbs won't grow or won't produce a good-quality flower. You can simulate this winter chill by placing the potted bulbs at 32 degrees F to 50 degrees F in a dark area such as a garage or basement. Depending on the variety and planting time, they'll need 8 to 16 weeks of chilling. If you don't have room for all the planted pots, you can try placing the unplanted bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator crisper for six weeks (without fruit), then pot them and place them in a 55 degree F dark room for a month.
Always choose the best bulbs available. They should be dense and heavy and free from mold, mildew, discoloration, or a peeling outer shell. Also, consider how much rest time you'll need to allow for the bulbs. Some bulbs are more easily forced than others. Miniature 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils require only eight to 10 weeks of cold. But bulbs such as tulips, regular-size daffodils, grape hyacinths, and dwarf irises will need 14 weeks of cold temperatures, then another two to three weeks to achieve full bloom.
Tools and Materials
Terra-cotta clay pots with a drainage hole
Pre-Chilled Assorted bulbs
Light stakes or sticks, optional
Twist ties, optional
Forcing Bulbs How-To
1. Cover the bottom of a clay pot with about 1 inch of gravel.
2. Fill the pot with soil mix, allowing room for the bulbs to sit just below the rim. You will need at least 2 inches of soil below your bulbs.
3. To achieve a fuller look when blooming, bulbs should be positioned as closely together as possible. Be sure that the root is faced downward. It is okay if they touch. Cover all bulbs with soil.
4. For the first week, keep it in a cool place, about 60 degrees.
5. Once the sprouts begin to turn green, move the container to a sunny window. The temperature should still be cool, about 68 degrees. If it's too warm, the stems will grow long and leggy, giving the plant a gangly look. Bulbs need a lot of water at this stage, so check them daily. Daffodils may need support; you can use light stakes or sticks tied to the stems with twist ties.
These growing bulb containers add a spring feel to your entranceway or dining room table for a special Mother’s Day gathering. Attached a small care card they make wonderful gifts for Easter and Passover hosts providing the recipient weeks of joy.
Krayl Funch is a Tampa Based Lifestylist and Founder of An Appealing Plan. She works predominately with time-challenged clients, specializing in seasonal design for Gardens, Gatherings and Everyday Living. To learn more about Forcing Bulbs and other ideas for Seasonal Decorating & Gifts visit: www.AnAppealingPlan.com