Forcing Bulbs Indoors In Winter
By using a method called "cold treatment", you can force bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths to bloom indoors in the winter.
Have you ever looked out across your sleeping, snow covered garden during those deep, dreary days of winter and wondered if there’s a way to bring a breath of Spring indoors? Good news. With some fall pre-planning you can create your own indoor blooming paradise. How? By tricking bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, crocus, daffodils, and iris into thinking it’s spring. This technique is called “forcing” bulbs. Here’s a few simple steps to get you started.
In the fall, choose your favorite bulb varieties and then buy top quality brands. Buying cheaper “on sale” bulbs isn’t recommended since damaged or inferior specimens usually never bloom, especially if forced. Reputable garden centres usually have a wide range of bulbs available beginning in late August. Garden and seed catalogues also have many choices. Store bulbs in a cool location until planting time, ideally at temperatures below 65F, otherwise they’ll begin to sprout.
Bulbs can be planted anytime from early October through the middle of November, then subjected to a “cold treatment” to force them into bloom indoors.
Plant your bulbs in clean, and preferably sterilized, plastic or clay containers with good drainage holes. Washing pots in hot, soapy water, then rinsing them in a light bleach solution should get rid of any pests or diseases. Buy bulb pans if available. If you can’t find any, make sure your pots aren’t too tall. Some bulb varieties have long stems. Once they’ve reached full height and blooming begins, pots may tip.
A good organic soil mixture is adequate. Plant several bulbs in a single container and space them close together for best display. Keep tops of bulbs slightly exposed above the soil. Don’t mix varieties. They may not all bloom at the same time, giving you a less showy result. Water the pots from the bottom until the soil is moist. No need to fertilize -- most bulbs have stored reserves for good flowering.
If you want sunny daffodils in January the ideal time to plant bulbs is in early September. If you’d like a pot full of smiling crocus in February, plant them in October. Need some tulips for a March table centre? Plant them around the middle of November.
Now it’s time for the “cold treatment”. There are several options:
1) bury bulb pots outdoors in a shallow trench about a foot deep and that is easily accessible. Pack with coarse sand and some sort of mulch to prevent freezing. Leave the pots in the trench until it’s time to bring them indoors.
2) place bulb pots in a cold frame and again cover with mulch or perlite. Window wells are a good location.
3) store bulb pots in an unheated garage,basement cold storage room, root cellar or even in your refrigerator. The main thing to remember is most bulbs need to be in cold treatment for 10-14 weeks and at temperatures around 40 degrees F. They also need complete dark and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out or freeze.
Mark your calendar so you know when to remove bulbs from cold storage. If you want your bulbs to flower over a longer period of time then stagger planting and cold treatment schedules. This way you’ll have flowering bulbs brightening your home for months, not just a few weeks.
Now it’s time to bring your bulb pots indoors to force them. Put pots in a room where the temperature is steady at 50-60 degrees and where the sunlight is bright but not direct. Once the buds begin to show color, move pots into a cooler location. The flowers will last longer. Keep the pots watered at all times throughout the blooming period.
Budding generally occurs 2-3 weeks after forcing and blooms will last for around 7 to 10 days. Once the bulbs are finished blooming, throw them out. Forced bulbs rarely bloom again.
Don’t want to go to all the trouble of buying bulbs and cold treating them? Why not try an amaryllis? Many garden centres sell amaryllis kits starting around Christmas and into the new year. A kit usually contains everything you need to get started: 1 amaryllis bulb, a pot and some potting soil. The choice marketed brands are bulbs larger than 8 inches and are either Dutch, Israeli or South African grown. They'll produce 2-6 flowers per single stalk. Larger bulbs sometimes produce 2-3 stalks. Amaryllis flowers are large and horn shaped and come in colors like flame red, white, pink, orange, salmon, and bi-colors like white and pink or white with red flushes. They are truly a striking winter flower! Once they finish blooming you can plant them outdoors and then force them again the next winter, making amaryllis a very versatile bulb.
It’s not impossible to bring a taste of spring into your home the middle of January. With some early planning you can have your own indoor blooming bulb garden to chase away those mid-winter blues!