Forcing Bulbs for Spring

Aiolos Hyacinth bulbs blooming in late-January 2022

I consider bulbs to be the greatest of all living optimists; they poke their small crowns through the ground in January, gleefully whispering to all who pass, "This winter too shall pass; light and an explosion of life are just around the corner." Despite the enormous temperature and weather changes throughout February, they continue to stand tall, resolute in the fact that spring is coming. What these early messengers of spring do not know is that I have been secretly cheating by forcing bulbs indoors this winter and enjoying everything these beauties have to offer those of us with seasonal affective disorder.

 Bulbs in bags marked with the number of weeks needed in a cold, dark dormancy before being forced indoors.

I am planning to start another round of indoor forced bulbs this February in hopes we can have some blooms throughout the spring to inspire and gift to others for all the coming celebrations. In the fall I put in an order for Aiolos HyacinthHakuun TulipPurissima Blonde Tulip, and Saffron Crocus. I planted about three-quarters of these bulbs in the garden but reserved the rest to put in the back of our refrigerator in a box where they could experience a period of cold dormancy. I have been slowly pulling these bulbs out and planting them in pots. These winter forced bulb experiments have yielded new learning about how best to force bulbs that are more healthy with better blooms.

This planter contains three hyacinth bulbs, four tulip bulbs, and seven muscari bulbs, which has proven too many for such a small space. 

The first lesson has been to force just one type of bulb per planter and give them more room for root expansion by planting fewer. I say this for two reasons: 1) in the photo above the hyacinths came up first and did well enough, but the subsequent tulips just haven't done as well, and; 2) since the flowers don't bloom at the same time anyway, I think they would have been better off in their own smaller containers that could be cycled in and out of rotation once their blossoms had withered. 

The second lesson is that bulbs are offered seasonally, so it is important to purchase in the fall if you want forced winter blooms and to store them in a cool dark place. This allows for succession planting of bulbs all winter long in the absence of their availability.

The hyacinths bloomed January 25th and the tulip February 17, 2022. Both were planted December 6th after four weeks in the refrigerator.

The final lesson (for now) has been that bulbs may not need as long of a cold and dark dormant period as advertised in my online research.  The bulbs pictured above were put into the fridge November 11th, 2021 and planted December 6th, 2021 and all did begin to grow and bloom. The remaining bulbs have been chilling for three months, so we shall soon see if this makes a difference for their overall growth and blooms.

Like many of my posts, I will be adding additional lessons as I learn them. As I prepare to plant force indoor bulbs for spring, I will update with photos and additional tips and tricks gleaned from my own successes and mishaps.

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