Forcing Bulbs for Winter Bloom
Forcing 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!
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