Forcing spring bulbs into winter bloom was the rage in the 1800’s. Hyacinths were especially popular. But there are others to try, too. We love vases of paperwhites and pots of amaryllis. And with a little prep time, you can have pots of tulips and daffodils blooming in your kitchen in late February.
Paperwhites, cousins to a type of daffodil, are incredibly simple to force. For best results, choose a deeper container as they develop lots of roots. You can use a pot or a glass vase. Fill the container to within a half-inch of the top with gravel, pebbles or marbles. Set the bulbs on top and gently wiggle them into the gravel to keep them upright. Fill the container with enough water to just touch the bottoms of the bulbs. You should have flower in 2 to 3 weeks.
Amaryllis are native to South Africa, and in our warmer regions, can be grown outside. In the chilly north, we love their exotic blossoms. Like paperwhites, amaryllis are ready to grow as soon as you get them home. Choose a pot that’s an inch larger than the diameter of the bulb and use well-drained potting soil. Plant so that the top third of the bulb exposed. Water sparingly until growth begins. When the first spike has finished flowering, cut it back and wait for the second.
Hyacinths can be forced in special, pinch-necked containers called forcing vases, or planted in pots. They are very easy, as long as they undergo a chill period of 10-12 weeks. You can provide this by keeping the bulbs in your refrigerator. It is best to chill them in their containers, watering them as needed, so that the roots develop while the sleeping flower buds chill out.
In fact, you can force just about any kind of bulb. Tulips and daffodils will do best when they’re chilled in soil. Plant the bulbs close together and just below the surface of the soil, leaving as much space available for root development as possible. Water them and set in a cool, dark place for 12-16 weeks. The inside corner of an unheated garage is ideal. You are looking for a temperature between 40 and 45 degrees. Keep the pots evenly moist, but never soggy. When the roots are visible through the pot’s drainage hole, coax the bulbs out of hibernation in a cool spot with filtered light.
And what to do with the bulbs when they are done blooming? Paperwhites have used all of the energy and should be discarded. Amaryllis can be moved outside in late April and fertilized through the summer. Start their dormancy period in early September and they will be ready to re-pot at the end of November. Hardy bulbs can be planted in your garden once the ground is thawed. They may take a couple years to recover from the forcing process
And those hardy bulbs can still be planted in the garden for about another month, right up until the ground freezes. We know it’s a lot of work, but those first flowers of spring make it all worthwhile. The rewards of delayed gratification are familiar to many gardeners.