Spring is but a distant memory. What sticks out in our minds is what kind of spring it was. The bulk of spring, April, was a wet cold miserable time to be in the garden. Crops in out gardens and in the fields of farmers were ruined. But oh what a month May was. Beautiful warm temperatures and the most co-operative nature has been to gardeners in along time. As the leaves fall in colored splendor they remind us that spring is just around the corner. Around a cold dark sometimes snowy winter though. However if we just look back at May and see how nature cooperated and made up for the rains of April we can have spring up a little early indoors. The trick is to plan now and plant now.
A visit to any garden center now will give you great ideas for spring bulb gardening. Tulips in rainbows of colors, daffodils and narcissus that deer refuse to eat. Crocus and snowdrops defy their dainty stature by poking their heads up through the snow. And watch out for hyacinths! They give many gardeners an itching reaction almost as strong as their fragrance. In fact in Holland employees are paid extra to work sorting hyacinths!
With all that beauty displayed on the package who can wait until spring for all that color?
Well it turns out that nature is beat Madison Avenue to the marketing game when it comes to the “I want it now” consumer. While you cannot have spring now you can have it in a few weeks if you simply force the issue. Spring bulbs can be coaxed to bloom indoors well before St. Patrick Day arrives.
The easiest to force are paper whites. I fact these pungent flowers will not survive outside at all. Paper whites do not need soil to bloom just a vase with a narrow neck to hold the bulb. Below the bulb water should be place just to be low the bottom of the bulb. Warm rooms will encourage the roots to descend into the water and green shoots to emerge from the top. Paper whites can also be grown in shallow bowls that do not have drainage holes. Line the bottom of the bowl with stones, place paper whites in odd numbers close together on the rocks. Fill in between the bulbs with more rocks. Add some water to the bottom of the bowl and the bulbs will be gin to grow. These indoor blooming narcissus also come in yellow.
Many other bulbs can be forced indoors as well. Tulips planted in shallow containers filled with lightweight soil can be planted now. After planting water well and place in a cold area for the roots to set. Any area with temperatures in the low to mid 40’s is fine. Any warmer and the roots won't set any colder and the bulbs may freeze or stop setting roots. The tulips need to be in this environment for at least eight weeks with 12 being the optimum. Bring them inside to warmer rooms four to six weeks before you want them to color. This can be a little tricky if you want red tulips for Valentines Day. There is simply no way without climate controlled rooms to have results that precise. I suggest planting several pots of red tulips and bring them inside at staggered intervals. This way you will have tulips in bloom for most of the month of February in addition to having red tulips for Valentines Day. The sad thing with tulips is that they seem to know they have been hood winked into blooming. They will not return the favor and bloom outside if planted.
Daffodils and other narcissus follow the same planting procedure as tulips. The difference here is that daffs and narcissus will bloom in following years. There is a misconception as to how to store bulbs to properly cool them. It is logical to think they can be placed directly in the refrigerator unplanted. The problem here is that due to the very dry environment inside most refrigerators the bulbs often dry out. Many refrigerators as well are simply too cold and the bulbs will not do anything and may even freeze. Without being placed into soil and watered bulbs have little chance of setting roots.
That brings us to another little problem with forcing bulbs. They do take up a lot of room!
Here is a little trick to get around the lack of space problem. Choose an azalea pot instead of bulb pan in which to plant your bulbs. Azalea pots are deeper than shallow bulb pans. The extra depth allows for planting of more than just daffs or hyacinths. In an azalea pot you can plant an entire spring bulb garden in miniature and enjoy six to eight weeks of ever changing color.
Here is how this mini garden works. Place narcissus and or hyacinths near the bottom of the pot on a shallow layer of lightweight soil. Cover the bulbs on the bottom completely with soil. On top of the soil plant smaller bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinths, snow drops, dwarf alliums etc. Cover these with soil as well and place in a cool spot for the eight week minimum treatment. As before bring this mini garden into a warm room four to six weeks before you would like it to bloom. The first bulbs in your mini garden to bloom will be the crocus and small bulbs you planted on the top layer of soil. Shortly before the crocus are done blooming tulips will emerge and bloom followed by the narcissus and hyacinths planted at the bottom of the pot. This whole process will evolve over six weeks and fill the room with an ever changing array of color and fragrance