Working With Winter Bulbs

Gardeners know about spring and summer bulbs and that we plant spring bulbs in the fall and summer bulbs in the spring. Have you ever considered taking some of those and turning them into "winter bulbs" by forcing them into boom during the winter months when the weather is dark and grey? While this may sound hard to do, it really isn't. There are a number of bulbs that will easily bloom for us. Amaryllis, hyacinth and paper white narcissus bulbs often are sold for just this purpose.

Amaryllis bulbs can provide a bloom show that is really unmatched for size, with the bulb producing the flower stalk first, growing to 18 to 24 inches in height before putting on the flowers. The leaves will come after the flowering is done and even they are attractive. Amaryllis bulbs are planted with two-thirds of the bulb in the potting mix. Kept moist and with good sunlight in a room with temperatures in the low 70s, blooms should show up in about six weeks. You can use the bulb as a bit of an experiment for children by having them measure how quickly the flower stem grows every couple of days and later waiting for the leaves to emerge. If kept in good condition, the bulb will be able to grow outdoors once the chance of late frosts have passed. Let it grow all season and just before a predicted frost, dig it up and let it dry down. Store it for a couple of months and then repeat the process.

Paper white narcissus has long been enjoyed in the home during the winter months. They are available as kits in nearly every garden center. Besides the bloom, paper whites also provide a great fragrance. Most often these bulbs are forced using just water, the bulbs being supported by decorative pebbles in a clear glass container. It will take 4 to 6 weeks before the bloom shows up with leaves emerging first. The better temperatures for forcing narcissus are a bit cooler than we enjoy, about 50 to 60 degrees. Once they are in bloom, display them where you get to see the flowers and enjoy the fragrance. You can force them in warmer temperatures, but the leaves have a strong tendency to get too long and fall over.

Forcing a Hyacinth bulb to bloom takes on a bigger challenge for the gardener. To ensure you will get a bloom, the bulb needs to receive a chilling period to trick the bulb into thinking winter is happening. There is a specific forcing container that is often used called a hyacinth glass that suspends the bulb above a lower portion filled with water. Once set in the glass with water filling the chamber below, it is time for the chilling. The refrigerator will work unless there is an area in the home that says between 35 and 40 degrees. The bulb stays in the refrigerator for about 14 weeks. Be sure to monitor the water level and refill as needed. Do not let the bulb itself touch the water. What you get is a bulb with yellow green leaves and the roots should be filling the lower portion of the glass. Move the bulb into the coolest portion of your home like a breezeway or back porch that maintains temperatures in 50s for less than a week. The next move is into warmer temperatures, but not room temperature yet. Blooms should show up in about three weeks.