Persuading Bulbs by Julie Lane Gay
For the friend with the Winter Blues, or being impressive on Valentine’s Day, consider forcing bulbs. “Forcing,” sounds ruthless, but it’s the process of condensing the bulb’s winter and spring, so the flowers bloom in early winter instead of mid-Spring. A greenhouse makes this easy, and foolproof.
If you are in a hurry, start with Paperwhite Narcissus. For these, I use a glass bowl filled with aquarium gravel or small pebbles because you can see the interesting roots develop, as you watch the stems rise. Place the bulbs close but not touching in at least 7-8 cm (3”) of gravel, burying about half of the bulb. Sprinkle just enough water so it percolates to the bottom of the bulbs. Leave the bowl in a sunny spot in the greenhouse until the stems are about 15 cm (6”) high, and then move it to a cool, sunny window in the house for the show to begin. Keep the gravel lightly watered with a solution of 9 parts water and 1 part rubbing alcohol – this keeps the stems shorter and less likely to fall over.
Tulips or Daffodils or dwarf iris or grape hyacinths take only slightly more effort. Place bulbs in potting soil (no gravel) in a container with drainage holes. In at least 4” of soil, place the bulbs close (but not touching), and cover with soil so their tips are at soil level or deeper. Leave a centimeter (1/2”) of space between the top of the soil and the top of the container, to avoid messy watering. Water thoroughly and put the pot in a dark, cold spot, ideally outside, or if your weather gets snowy, in an unheated garage or the floor of the greenhouse. Bulbs need 5-9 C (40-50 F) degrees for their “winter.” Leave the pot cold for 6-12 weeks, keeping the soil barely moist. Once the shoots are about 5 cm (2”) high, move the pot into the greenhouse, watering more regularly until the buds develop. This “spring” should take 4-7 weeks. When the buds look ready to burst, move the pot into the house to behold their aphrodisiac or blues-chasing impact.
For an even more impressive impact, consider forcing Lily bulbs. Plant them 5 cm (2”) apart, at a depth equivalent to their height – if the bulb is 12cm (5”), plant 12cm deep. Add slow-release fertilizer into the soil. After that, follow the general regime for all bulbs – cold and dark spot, then into the greenhouse till about to bloom. Consider the Formosa Lily to bring the fragrance of the tropics right to your windowsill.