How To Force Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Adding a pop of color and “life” to your home in the winter can be as easy as growing a few pretty plants. In fact, last week I posted pics of my paperwhites. There was some interest in having me share a tutorial on how to grow them, so I’m excited to share this with you!

Forcing paperwhite bulbs

It took about two weeks to grow these pretties on the right.

While I’m currently growing paperwhites, there are tons of other options to choose from. I’m talking amaryllis, hyacinths, crocus and even daffodils. {Hello, little bundles of spring.}

BlueGrapeHyacinth

Blue Grape Hyacinths

DoubleDaff

Double Daffodils

Crocus

Crocus

The cool thing about growing these flowers indoors is you get to observe them up close as they bloom. Cool thing number two is that it’s super simple to do. There are a few tricks of the trade I’ve learned from my Master Gardener mom, whom we lovingly call Mimi. So I’ll share a few of Mimi’s magic tips to ensure you can force bulbs like a champ.

How to Choose the Right Bulbs

Any garden store should have bulbs this time of year. I shop at Westwood Gardens because they are incredibly helpful and general superstars.

Tip: When shopping, be sure to choose bulbs that are plump and firm.

Most bulbs will need a rooting period of 12-15 weeks. This means storing them in a mesh or paper bag in a cool place (like your refrigerator or cold garage). This is called prechilling. Many of the bulbs for sale right now have already been prepared for forcing. So you can head straight to the directions below. Be sure to check, though.

What You’ll Need

Gardening Supplies

The line up: A container (vase or flower pot), soil or rocks, flower bulbs and water

Two Ways to Plant and Grow

{ONE} Force Bulbs in Water

Any tall, narrow vase will be great. You don’t have to have a special forcing vase to make this work.

Planting Bulbs in Water

I like using a tall, clear vase so I can watch the roots grow. Also, the sides of the vase serve as natural “stakes” for the plant as it grows.

Three simple steps:

  1. Fill your container with rocks or pebbles. You only need to fill about 3-4 inches.
  2. Add water right up to the top of the rocks.
  3. Tuck your bulbs down in the rocks. Plant as many as your container will hold. They can even be touching.

Tip: You only want to cover the root portion so the bulb doesn’t rot in the water.

{TWO} Force Bulbs in Soil

You can either use a vase or regular gardening pot. I’m planting crocus, which don’t grow very tall, so I’m going with this lovely white pot.Planting in SoilThree simple steps:

  1. Fill your container with soil. I like to pre-wet the soil a bit so it’s not as messy when you add water at the end.
  2. Plant your bulbs about halfway into the soil. Part of the bulb will be visible.
  3. Water the bulbs and keep the soil moist as they grow.

More Helpful Tips

Nurturing Your Plant Babies

There really isn’t much to do once your bulbs have been planted, other than watching the water levels and replenishing, as needed. Just sit back and watch your babies grow! The average growing rate will vary, but here’s a rough guide based on planting pre-chilled bulbs.

Plant Chart

Compliments of The Neat Nook

Keeping them Tall and Proud

Even though I grew my paperwhites in tall vases, they still toppled over a bit because their stems are so “leggy” as Mimi calls them. Here’s a pretty way to handle this situation. Gather the stems and secure with a ribbon.

Paperwhite Stake with Ribbon

I chose a sheer ribbon since it’s so delicate – like the flowers.

Tip: The tighter the ribbon, the more secure the stems will be.

If the stems are still toppling over, add a bamboo stick or even a nice-looking stick from your yard for added support. Tuck it all the way down into your rocks or soil to keep it sturdy. Then tie a pretty ribbon around the entire thing.

After the Bloom

Once your bulbs have finished blooming, it’s not time to be sad. You can cut off the flowers at the base and store the bulbs in a cool, dry location until spring. If you’ve planted in soil, you can keep them right in the container. Once spring hits, you can plant them outside.

I hope you’ll try this at home. If you do, be sure to take lots of pictures. Maybe we can create our own little community garden on Instagram this way? I’m @Katejandersen on both Instagram and Twitter.

Happy planting!

-Kate

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It’s Not Too Late: Planting Fall Bulbs

Hyacinth bulbs with pots to plant

Hyacinth Bulbs Ready to Plant

I was watching Weatherman Dan (my favorite local meteorologist) the other day, and he was talking about a looming polar vortex that will hit most of the U.S. with a wintry vengeance this week. My initial thought after “wait, what?!” was “coat shopping!” The kids grow so fast, there’s no way they’ll zip into last year’s coats without having a Chris Farley moment. I also realized I haven’t planted my fall bulbs, yet. Good gracious, girl!

Needless to say, I need to take a knee and get to planting ASAP. If you’re like me and let the middle of November sneak up on you, let’s do this thing together. You’ll thank me come spring when your garden is exploding with color.

It always feels like a surprise party when the flowers burst out of the cold ground. Even though I carefully and lovingly buried each bulb, I somehow develop gardening amnesia come March. I’m like, “Oh, yay! Look at those little crocus in the corner! I love crocus!”

If you’re not sold on planting bulbs, let me elaborate. Bulbs are awesome. They’re low-maintenance, not too expensive, and make your heart absolutely happy when they bloom at the tail end of a dreary, gray winter. What more could you ask for?

You can find bulbs anywhere this time of year. Be sure to buy them from a reputable nursery, though. Cheap bulbs equal cheap blooms – if at all. Boo. I really like shopping at Westwood Gardens in my area or ordering online from Burpee.

Five great flowers to try:

  1. Tulips: Tulips are probably one of the first choices you think of when it comes to spring flowers – and for good reason. Tulips are classic. There are so many varieties you can have a garden packed with these beauties, while still keeping things extremely interesting. For a unique flair, try ‘Parrot’ tulips!
    ParrotTulip

    ‘Parrot’ Tulip

  2. Daffodils: Another classic spring flower is the beloved daffodil. They’re one of the easiest to grow, too. I love the layers of a double-flowered daffodil. If you want a unique color combo try the ‘Romance.’ It has rose-pink cups with gorgeous white petals. It won’t disappoint.
    RomanceDaff

    ‘Romance’ Daffodil

    DoubleDaff

    Mix of Double-flowered Daffodils

  3. Hyacinths: There are two basic types. The common hyacinth has short stalks of amazingly fragrant flowers that look like little starfish. Grape hyacinths are even smaller and have tight blooms that look like clusters of mini grapes. So cute!
    BlueGrapeHyacinth

    Blue Grape Hyacinth

    hyacinth

    Common Hyacinth

  4. Iris: These are a great addition to a garden because they’re hardy and look amazing. They’re tall and regal and remind me of an exotic orchid – minus the temperament.
    Iris

    ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ Iris

  5. Crocus: I like planting a mix of colors with these adorable flowers. Since they grow low to the ground, they make a pretty accent at the base of any other flower. And you know it’s all about that base.
    Crocus

    Crocus {Hey, there!}

Once you feel ready, here’s a quick primer for planting:

  • When: Plant anytime before the ground freezes (pretty much now)
  • Where: Pick a spot that gets full sun and has well-drained soil.
  • How many: Plant lots of bulbs just in case some don’t sprout. If you want a more natural look, plant them in random order and spacing. If you want to create groves of daffodils or tulips, you’ll need to buy and plant lots of bulbs.
  • How deep: Plant at a depth of three times the width of the bulb. If your soil’s sandy, plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower.
  • What now: After planting, apply fertilizer low in nitrogen and water well. Apply mulch to keep the weeds down and hold in moisture.

 You’re good to go! Have fun digging in the dirt – and try to stay warm out there!

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