My friend Eve recently said that autumn always makes her think of spring. I couldn’t agree with her more, and as I squirrel away hoards of daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth bulbs, my mind drifts to the scents, sights and sounds of late April and May. Winter is a long season here in the northeast, and come late February and March —when the grey days outnumber the blue— I know I’ll be longing for soft, damp earth on my fingertips and the fragrance of fresh flowers. So while planting spring-flowering bulbs outside in the garden, I always pot up a few dozen favorites —and begin chilling them early— for forcing indoors.
Pre-chilled, fragrant bulbs make wonderful holiday gifts —and this project is particularly fun to share with children— but you’ll need to start right away. Most spring flowering bulbs need at least 6 weeks of cold (10 or more is ideal for tulips, crocus, snowdrops and hyacinth). I like to force most bulbs in lightweight, recycled plastic pots with fast-draining potting soil (some bulbs can be forced in decorative stone or glass, click here for tutorial). When planting, you can combine bulbs with similar bloom times together, or plant one kind in each container and arrange them in combinations later. Once I settle the bulbs into their pots, I moisten the soil, cover the top with black plastic (secured with rubber band) and place them in my garden shed (protect bulbs from mice with wire mesh/cages if rodents invade your shed in winter). Any cold, dark place will work —under a deck, in a garage, cellar bulkhead, etc— the key is to keep the temperature below 40 degrees fahrenheit. If you have extra space in a spare refrigerator, you can chill bulbs in there as well. In order for the bulbs to develop roots, it’s important to keep them cold, dark and moist (but not soggy). I like to check on progress every week or so. Once the chilling period has passed, I uncover a few plastic pots each month, water them well and slip them inside decorative containers or baskets. I use polished stones, dried moss, grass or other attractive mulch to hide the top of the plastic pot and conserve moisture. Then, I set the containers out in a cool, bright room to enjoy the show. I always enjoy them on the dining table and by the front entry door. It’s so lovely to watch the green leaves unfold and delicate petals open. Click here for my previous post on forcing narcissus for further instructions and ideas; including how to force bulbs in polished stone.
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