Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Bloom

novembre 5Forcing bulbs such as hyacinths, crocus, tulips, and narcissus is not rocket science: just the pot them up in the fall, barely covering the bulb with potting soil (in fact, if the tip of the bulb still shows, that’s not a problem), then water well and seal the pot in a plastic bag, putting it in a cool but frost free place, such as a fridge, a barely heated garage or a cold room. You want cold conditions, but above freezing. Check the condition of the bulbs occasionally, watering if necessary, because bulbs, unlike other plants, actually grow and use water when stored in the cold and dark! When the bulbs are ready to bloom, remove the bag, place the pot in a well lit location, water it as needed and your bulbs will be in bloom in as little as two weeks!

Forcing bulbs takes more time than people imagine, though. Even if the bulb looks “ready”, with a well-developed shoot and many roots, it needs to have been in cold conditions for the equivalent of a winter. For most bulbs, figure 14 weeks of forcing before it is time to expose them to heat. Hyacinths are the fastest bulbs to force, usually requiring only 8 or 9 weeks of cold… at least, they’re the fastest among traditional bulbs.

There is a subcategory of narcissus, the Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus), that comes from a Mediterranean climate where it never gets very cold. This narcissus is not hardy in many areas (USDA zones 8 to 11) and is generally sold as an indoor plant. Just pot up Paperwhite bulbs, water them and they will be in bloom in time for Christmas!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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