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weekend project | caring for forced bulbs

by dig the dirt editor

Many bulbs that are forced can actually be planted out in the garden the fall after they bloom indoors. Most likely they won't flower again the following year, but they will grace the garden with blooms for the years to come. The exception to this rule is tulip and paperwhite narcissus; once these bulbs are forced, they should be tossed. Follow our tips to produce an indoor floral extravaganza.





Pot 'em up

  • If you want to tuck forced bulbs into the garden, plant them in pots of soil.
  • Choose containers that are roughly twice as deep as the length of a bulb. Four-inch pots work well for individual hyacinth bulbs; bulb pans (shallow pots) are perfect for potting tulips, grape hyacinths, or crocus.

Use good soil

  • A commercially prepared potting mix will work perfectly for forcing bulbs.
  •  At planting time, mix some bulb food into the soil in the base of the pot, where hungry roots will emerge.

Not too deep

  • Place bulbs so the growing tip is just poking above the soil line--which should be about half an inch below the pot rim.
  • Position tulip bulbs so the flat side faces the outside of the pot.

Water, then chill

  • After planting, water bulbs thoroughly, then place them in a cool place for chillling. Aim to place pots where air temperature hovers between 30 and 50 degrees F. The cooler the air, the quicker the forcing time will be.
  •  You can place bulbs in an unheated garage or in the refrigerator. Pots should not freeze. If pots are kept in a garage, cover the surfaces with newspaper to block light.
  • Check pots every other week to see if soil is dry. Pots in a self-defrosting fridge will dry out more quickly. In a garage, pot will likely need watered every four weeks.
  • When roots begin to poke through drainage holes in the bottoms of pots, shoots will emerge shortly thereafter.

Force the bloom

  • When shoots are about an inch high, begin to bring pots out of cooling and into growth. Place in a cool room in bright, indirect light until leaf shoots are about 4 inches high. Then move pots to a brighter location and watch for flower buds to emerge.
  • When buds blush into color, move pots back into indirect light and wait for the color show to begin. Bulbs will perform best with day temperatures in the 60s, nights in the 40s.

Preparing for the great outdoors

  • After flowering is over, snip flower stalks with sharp clippers and move pots into bright light.
  • Allow foliage to grow. Eventually, leaves will start to yellow; this marks the time to withhold water. Give bulbs only enough water to keep the foliage from wilting. When leaves are crispy brown, the soil should have been allowed to dry out completely.
  • Store bulbs in dried-out pots until planting time in fall. Or, remove bulbs from soil and store in brown bags in a dry place that's protected from hungry rodents.

Break out the trowels

  • Come fall, break out your favorite trowel or bulb planter and tuck those blooming beauties into the garden.
  • Spring will usher in a show of foliage, and maybe a flower or two. In years to come, you'll enjoy many flowers from the bulbs.



weekend project, forcing bulbs