How to Force Bulbs

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How to Force Bulbs

Forcing bulbs — or tricking them into thinking they’ve have a nice cold winter — is a great way to indoor blooms during the dead of winter. It’s also necessary if you live in a mild climate and want beautiful tulips, daffodils or hyacinth during winter and early spring.

As a number of bloggers have noted, you will be seeing spring bulbs in your local garden center soon, if they’re not there already. Many bulbs need a good long chill before sending up leaves and blooms. In cold climates, this can easily be achieved by planting the bulbs in the fall, before the first frost, and leaving them to their own devices over the winter. But if you live in a more mild climate, like me, or you want to enjoy their blooms during winter, you have to provide an artificial winter, which is called “forcing.”

Forcing bulbs is pretty simple. It can be done in your refrigerator, or a garage or basement. Pretty much any place that provides consistent temperatures below 50 degrees (F) but above freezing temperatures.

  1. Pot the bulbs in clean, sterile pots. You can place the bulbs very close together, so put as many bulbs as you can in a single layer. For example, 6 tulip bulbs will fit in a 6 inch pot. Normally you want to leave the pointy “nose” of the bulbs exposed. So fill the pot with dirt but not all the way to the top.
  2. Water the bulbs immediately upon planting, and thereafter the soil should never be allowed to become dry.
  3. Put them in a loosely tied plastic bag in your fridge or other cold spot. Check them every week or so to make sure the soil is moist. Also check to see if roots are coming out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. When you see roots sticking out and 2-3 inches of green shoots, it’s time to bring the bulbs out of the fridge. Most bulbs require 5-6 weeks, but some, such as tulips, can require as much as 16 weeks.
  4. Place the pots in a cool location, such as a shaded corner of the balcony. Somewhere that is about 50 degrees (F). Rotate the pots once a day so that the stems and leaves grow evenly and upright.
  5. When the flower buds are plump and ready to open, put the pots in a sunny location, such as a bright windowsill. Returning flowering plants to a cool location overnight will extend the life of their blooms.

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