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Thursday
Oct272011

{gardening} HOW TO force spring BULBS

I have a brown thumb, and am forever asking my friend Heather (a horticulturalist) for help. Since she's made my rooftop garden a thing of beauty, I asked if she would share her tips with you, too!

Tulips! Daffodils! Iris? Yes, it’s nearly November, but with a little planning, you can enjoy a beautiful spring show in about 12 weeks. Forcing bulbs is a time-honored tradition for those of us impatient with winter’s grey skies. I prefer to force bulbs in pots of soil as you have a fair chance of them still thriving when planted outdoors. It also can be a thoughtful hostess gift for the person who has everything.

You will need:
• large, top quality bulbs
• containers that have a drainage hole and are at least four inches in size
• potting soil
• a trowel or scoop
• a watering can or hose
• gloves if you prefer
• a tarp, drop cloth, or sheet to contain spillage and for easy clean up

 

For this project, I’m doing both a gift and one for myself. A piece of gravel covers the drainage hole so your potting soil doesn’t spill straight out the bottom.

 

Add at least two inches of potting soil at the bottom to give roots room to grow.

My gift container will be one huge scarlet parrot tulip. For myself, I’m layering different bulbs to extend the blossom time to about six weeks, starting with a few of those red tulips.

 

Next, I’m adding poet-type fragrant daffodils with a bit of red in the eye of the trumpet. As you are picking out bulbs, consider pairing complimentary colors and contrasting shapes. The tulips are very upright, while the daffodils are more nodding. Don’t worry about stacking them nearly on top of each other, the bulbs will sort themselves out.

 

To balance out the large red parrot tulips and the bright white daffodils, I’m adding some cute little fragrant yellow tulips. This will also pull together the flashes of yellow in the tulips with the touch of yellow in the daffodil cups. They are planted right to the edge to allow the foliage to gracefully drape over the sides of the pot.

 

Last, but not least is a top dressing of miniature iris. These irises will bloom first and add a soft blue note to our dramatic red, yellow and white combination.

 

Top off your containers with about three inches of potting soil and water thoroughly.

 

Now, you’ll need to find a place for these bulbs to chill. They will need to be kept between 33° and 45° for at least 12 weeks in a dark place. This could be an unheated garage, the back porch in deep shade or even a refrigerator that does not contain fruit. Keep soil lightly moist and check it every week or so for dryness. You can loosely cover the containers, but make sure that mold does not form. Since I’m using tulips, they will need at least 12 weeks of chilling.

After the cooling period, and three or four weeks before you want the blossoms to appear, move the container to a moderately warm spot, about 60º. Keep it in indirect light for a few days, until shoots appear and turn green. Then move it into direct sun but someplace that stays relatively cool as the cooler the temperatures the longer the flowers will last. Water the bulbs as you would a houseplant, keeping the container moist, but not soaking. Before you can say "there's the first robin" you'll be enjoying gorgeous spring blooms!

Gardening by Heather Prince

Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Heather is on Twitter @FearlessGarden. Read her full bio here.

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