Friday, November 1, 2013

Forcing Mother Nature

Not my photo but certainly 
beautiful Hyacinths 
I talked, nagged, and guided readers about planting spring flowering bulbs.  I’ve also talked about forcing bulbs in bulb vases for winter beauty.  Well guess what:  it’s time to start that process!

I noticed some stores already have their spring flowering bulbs on sale.  The retail need to bring in Christmas merchandise forces them to reduce their inventory of things currently in season.  As it so happens, that’s a good thing for those of us who want to plant bulbs. 

It’s the right time to get them in the ground and it’s the right time to get them ready to force.  Different bulbs need different forcing preparation and planting methods; all pretty easy and worth the little bit of effort.

I’ve collected some pretty lovely bulb forcing vases (from the Victorian age – the vases not me) and they support the bulb once it has a heavy flower sprouting on top.  These vases have a cup-like top holding the bulb up over/not touching the water.  You may use anything that will hold the bulb up out of the water but you may have to support the flowers against something if the vase doesn’t have the means.  I’ll have pictures on my blog if you want visualization.  The bulbs cannot touch the water because they will rot.  As the bulb realizes it’s time to bloom, it will send roots down into the water in search of moisture.   

A mix of bulbs sprouting.
Hyacinths are the most fragrant and need to be fooled into thinking they have over wintered (as if they were in the ground.)  Put the bulbs in the vase with water right below the bulb.  Set this in a cool (40 to 48 degrees) dark place until the bulb starts sending down roots.  This may be an unheated garage or basement but they can’t freeze.

Next, move to a cool room with filtered light.  Add water to keep the level just below the bulb.  If the water begins to look cloudy or brownish, it usually means the bulb will begin to rot and its best to simply throw it out and go on with the others. 

After about a week, move to a bright area, turning the container as needed to keep them growing upright.  Even though they like the bright lights, they still want to have the temperature cool so don’t put near a heating source.

Tulips may be planted in potting soil.  Use a pot deep enough to provide stability for the top-heavy flowers.  Add enough soil to within two inches of the rim of the pot.  Set the bulbs on the soil and close together.   Sprinkle more soil around the bulbs until just the top 1/3 is showing.  Add just enough water to make sure the soil is slightly moist.  Too much water and they rot.  Cover the pot with a plastic bag with a few holes poked in it to breath.  Place in your refrigerator or a cool dark room for 8 to 16 weeks.  Once they start to sprout, move to a sunny area, remove the bag and make sure the soil doesn’t dry.

This is that a pretty 
little surprise lily.
Side note:  Do not store bulbs in a refrigerator that also has fruit stored.  Your bulbs will not bloom or they’ll be distorted.

Paperwhites are perhaps the easiest to force.  Use a pretty bowl, similar to a serving dish, add glass pebbles or rocks to a minimum of one inch, and lay the bulbs close together on top of the first layer.  Put more pebbles around the bulbs up to the middle of the bulb.  Add water to just below the bulbs.  You may add one teaspoon of alcohol to prevent rot.  Place in a sunny but cool place and they should sprout in about three weeks. 

Other little hints: 
  • ·      If you want to have flowers all winter, stagger planting times.
  • ·      Not all bulbs will be successful so try hard not to become emotionally attached.
  • ·      Experiment with other bulbs such as crocus or lilies.  I had a beautiful surprise one year with an unlabeled lily type flower. 
  • ·      I researched on line (Dave’s Gardens for one) and the more I read, the more ideas I was able to find. 
  • ·      The individual bulb vases look like jewels on a good old-fashioned windowsill. 
  • ·      Once the flowers finish blooming and the foliage starts to die, cut it back, take it out of the vase and store it until you can plant outside.
  • ·      Once the whole thing is done, wash the containers with a bleach solution to insure bacteria won’t destine next year’s bulbs to rot. 
  • ·      Starting bulbs about now will mean flowers around the holidays.  A variety of colors resemble Christmas lights or focusing on single colors used for holiday decorating is an option.
Enjoy this journey into fooling nature – occasionally Mother Nature loves the outcome.


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