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Forcing Bulbs During Winter Months

February 13, 2015 by Kristen Hansen, Garden Center Group Leader

Forcing bulbs is an easy and enjoyable way to brighten up your home during the long winter months. Spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinth are great choices, as they flower early in the spring and are a welcome sign of warmer weather to come! While forcing bulbs does take a little planning and preparation, it’s well worth it! I recently forced hyacinth bulbs at our garden center, and things are really coming along!  

To start, what does it mean to force bulbs? Simply put, you force spring bulbs to bloom indoors in the winter months. It’s a way to trick Mother Nature and get a jump start on spring!

Now it’s your turn to try! Here are six simple steps to force bulbs…

Step 1: Purchase bulbs
September is typically a good time to source bulbs from your local garden center, or you can buy them online. I usually pre-order my bulbs in August, and have them shipped to me in October.

Step 2: Plan for blooms
Hyacinth bulbs will take about 16 weeks to bloom, including about 13 weeks of chilling and 3 weeks of warming up, and this is where the planning part comes in. It’s important to know when you want your bulbs to bloom. For example, if you’d enjoy some fresh flowers around Valentine’s Day, the bulbs need to be chilled toward the end of October and brought out of cold storage mid-January.

Step 3: Chill your bulbs
If the bulbs can’t be potted right away, they can be stored in perforated plastic bags or paper bags in the refrigerator. It’s important not to place them near fruits that give off ethylene gas, such as apples, as this can cause them to rot.

Step 4: Pot your bulbs
You can put your bulbs in different pots; some with well-drained soil and others with clean pebbles. Sand can be mixed with the potting soil too! Fish aquarium pebbles work well and also come in a variety of colors. You don’t need to worry about overcrowding containers when forcing bulbs, so plant them as close as you need to. The bulbs should be planted with their pointed sides up, just under the surface of the soil or the pebbles. Once the bulbs are potted, watered them well, and put them away in a cool, dark place. The ideal temperature to store them is 35 to 45 degrees. For mine, I used a cooler, but they can be placed in an unheated garage or a mini fridge. It is important to ensure that they do not freeze solid.

Step 5: Warm your bulbs
About 13 weeks after potting the bulbs, you can them out of the cooler and put them in an area that is approximately 60 degrees and out of direct sunlight, such as a basement or closet. The reason for doing this is because in cold storage they will have grown some roots, so we want them to warm up slowly so that the tops can start actively growing.

Step 6: Enjoy!
Once they start to bloom and flowers emerge, you can move them anywhere you want to and enjoy the early pop of spring in your home! The hyacinth bulbs I forced should flower around Valentine’s Day if all goes as planned. Keep an eye out for follow-up pictures! (You can see the early stages of mine are in the photo below – seeing a little color gives me hope for spring!)

If you have any questions about forcing bulbs or would like to get a start on planning your garden this year, give me a call at 515.987.6334!

 

Hyacinth Bulbs

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