Spring in January? Forcing Bulbs For A Stunning Winter Indoor Garden
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video available now entitled “Forcing Flower Bulbs
in Water for a mid-winter indoor garden”
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This year Harvesting History’s fall newsletter series is going to focus on spring This year Harvesting History’s fall newsletter series is going to focus on spring flowering bulbs that are critter resistant and great plants for nourishing pollinators. In the last six newsletters, we discussed Rock Garden Irises (Iris reticulatas), Chionodoxas (Glory of the Snow), Galanthus (Snowdrops), Hyacinthoides (Bluebells), Species Tulips, Native American Bulbs and Alliums. In this newsletter, we are going to teach you how to force bulbs and discuss some outstanding candidates for forcing.
Getting bulbs to grow and blossom indoors during the winter is known as “Forcing”. “Forcing” means that you trick a bulb into believing that it has awakened from its winter slumber and it is now time for it to produce its spring blooms. Some bulbs can be forced by placing the bulb in water. Many bulbs can be forced by planting them in soil in a pot. With the exception of paperwhites, ALL BULBS MUST BE EXPOSED TO A PERIOD OF COLD FOR AT LEAST 12 WEEKS.
Flowers with a sweet fragrance were of great value beginning in the 1700s and continuing through the Victorian days of stinking streets and individuals who often did not bathe for weeks, so forcing bulbs became a favorite with the rich, the middle and the working classes.
Bulbs like paperwhites and hyacinths experienced an explosion in popularity when plantsmen of the 17th century discovered that hyacinths could be forced into bloom in the midst of winter when nothing else was adding beauty and sweet scents to the somewhat acrid smelling family domicile.
By 1682, the pioneering plant scientist, Nehemiah Grew, secretary of the British Royal Society, had observed that the flower buds of the hyacinth were formed in the bulb the prior season.
The bulbs could be stimulated by first exposing them to a period of cold for several weeks and then keeping the bulbs warm, thus tricking them into believing they had experienced winter, and it was now spring.
The buds would then prematurely emerge from the bulbs and burst into bloom. The forcing of bulbs became so popular in Edwardian and Victorian England that at one estate alone, some 2200 hyacinths and 1200 crocuses were forced annually.
If you are going to force bulbs in soil, then, for best results, place 4-8 bulbs in a 6-inch pot on top of 2 inches of soil, and cover the bulbs with soil leaving only the tips above the surface of the soil. The soil for the 6-inch pot should contain 1/4 cup bone meal. This is essential. Wrap the pot in a plastic bag and place the pot with the bulbs in the refrigerator for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, remove the pot from the refrigerator, water, and place in a cool bright window. Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged and the pot cool. The bulbs will bloom in about 4 weeks.
If you are going to force bulbs in water, you need to place the bulbs in the refrigerator (NOT THE FREEZER) for at least 12 weeks. When you remove the bulbs from the refrigerator, place them in a bulb vase or a bowl lined with pebbles. Add water to the base of the bulbs and place the vase/bowl in a cool, bright window. The bulb will produce blossoms in about 4 weeks. Only narcissus, hyacinths and crocus may be forced in water.
Thalias are best when planted in soil, but can be forced in water. If you decide to force Thalias in soil use a 6-inch diameter pot and place 4-6 bulbs in the pot depending on what will fit. Don’t forget the bone meal.
Known as the “Orchid Narcissus”, this lovely plant produces up to 5 slightly drooping, ‘chaotic’ white flowers with a slight pinkish tinge. The ‘chaos’ produces the effect of a drift of white blossoms dancing across the garden. The blossoms are quite long lasting.
Thalia was introduced into cultivation in 1915.
Thalias are as tall as Paperwhites, but do not produce as many flowers per stem. Their fragrance is much more subtle, and for people who cannot stand the fragrance of Paperwhites, Thalias are a delightful alternative.
Iris reticulatas are excellent plants for forcing in soil. They cannot be forced in water. In a 6-inch pot place 6-8 bulbs. Don’t forget the bone meal. They will produce a marvelous bouquet of extraordinary color.
We have already discussed Iris reticulata Harmony in our 8-31-2019 newsletter, but as a reminder this iris was introduced in 1953. It is the darkest of the Rock Garden Irises with standards and falls that vary from dark purple to dark blue. Sometimes the standards and falls exhibit white or yellow blotches.
Harmony came from a cross between Iris histrioides ‘Major’ and the original Iris reticulata produced by CJH Hoog in the Netherlands. The result, ‘Harmony’, was a plant whose blossoms were far larger than either of its parents. In fact, to this day, Harmony produces some of the largest blossoms in its class.
Like Iris reticulata Harmony, Iris reticulata Danfordiae is an excellent plant for forcing in soil. Danfordiae cannot be forced in water. In a 6-inch pot place 6-8 bulbs. Don’t forget the bone meal. The sunshine yellow blooms with cute brown freckles will bring joy and pleasure to any home in the midst of the dreary winter.
Iris danfordiae was introduced in 1876. She is a fragrant, sunshine yellow charmer. Her bottom petals, known as ‘falls’, are usually much broader than those of her cousins, Iris reticulatas Alida and Harmony. These broader falls give her an air of voluptuousness that Alida and Harmony just do not have.
Paperwhites – you either love them or hate them. Their fragrance is either sweet pleasure or the cause of some mighty headaches. Paperwhites belong to a class of daffodils known as Tazetta Narcissus. All Tazettas share these common qualities: their flower stems produce multiple blossoms from 3-20 per stem; their flowers are fragrant with Paperwhites having the strongest fragrance of all and they all can be forced in water without a 10-13 week stay in the refrigerator.
It doesn’t get any easier than forcing Tazettas in water. Place some small stones, marbles or glass beads in a bowl, and then arrange a few bulbs on top of the marbles, beads or stones fitting them snugly against each other. Fill the bowl with water to the base of the bulbs. DO NOT COVER THE BULBS WITH WATER. Maintain the water level at the bottom of the bulb. Bulbs do not need sunlight and can be grown in lamplight. In a week to 10 days, the bulbs will sprout and in about 30 days they will bloom. Once the bulbs start to bloom, if you keep them in a cool area like a north facing window, the blooms will last longer.
For those of you who have students studying diligently for their exams, who know of some beleaguered elementary or secondary school teacher who has been trapped with their charges inside a classroom for the month of January, who have loved ones in assisted living or Alzheimer’s patients in institutions, who have professional colleagues with windowless offices or friends who just need a gentle loving distraction – watching a “forced” bulb, nestled in a bulb vase or a small pot, produce a bud and then a richly colored, sweetly scented blossom can be great therapy.
Don’t miss our Tuesday, October 1, 2019
newsletter on Species Daffodils.
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