Container Gardening

Force Spring Bulbs to Bloom Indoors

By Nina Koziol

This time of year I like to stroll the garden centers and peruse the online plant purveyors in search of spring-blooming bulbs on sale. I live in the Chicago area where you can place bulbs into the ground into late December before the soil freezes. But, there’s more enjoyment to growing bulbs than just popping them in your garden. I like to force spring bulbs to bloom indoors to create spectacular displays for the holidays (and for the dreary dark days that straddle the winter solstice).

My favorites are daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, scilla, tulips and snowdrops because they provide dazzling spring blooms although, truth be told, I love them all — from the tiniest Galanthus (snowdrops), which sometimes pop out of the snow-covered ground as early as January, to the big beefy King Alfred daffodils that appear three months later. In March and April, tulips with fringed and multi-colored petals mingle with grape hyacinths. Planted in groups of 5, 7 or 9 bulbs, daffodils in brilliant golds, orange and yellow — Jet Fire, Tete-a-Tete and February Gold — provide a punch of color to my flower beds. They fill the late winter and early spring months with plenty of eye candy before spring perennials and pansies start to bloom.


Stock up when bulbs are on sale

By early November the local garden centers are starting to place their bulbs on sale. It’s a temptation that I just can’t resist. To get the effect I want, it takes bags and bags of bulbs because you can’t plant too many.When considering bulbs that are on sale, give them a little squeeze to make sure they are firm and not squishy or rotting. They should be free from mold spots, too.

I always manage to have several leftover bulbs that don’t make it into my garden, and, that’s okay. I store them in our attached garage where it is cold, but not freezing. There, they have a few weeks of needed cold exposure before I plant them indoors. A period of cold storage is how to force spring bulbs to bloom indoors. It’s a real treat because having daffodils and tulips bloom on a windowsill brightens our home at a time when it’s often snowing.

Spring-flowering bulbs need a spell of cold weather especially if you want to force spring bulbs to bloom indoors. Don’t have a cold spot yet?  Place the bulbs in paper bags in the refrigerator for a few weeks (but not the freezer).

Photo by Nina Koziol

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