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Banish The Winter Doldrums By Forcing A Splash Of Spring Blooms

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As some of the first harbingers of Spring, bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are a welcome sight after a long cold winter. But did you know you don't have to wait for warmer temperatures to enjoy the sights and smells of these beautiful and delicate flowering plants. With a little advance planning and preparation, you can force them to bloom inside your home when you want them. Here's how you can get the colors of spring to brighten up the gray days of winter.

What Is Bulb Forcing?

Bulb forcing is the process of getting a bulb to grow and bloom ahead of its regular schedule. As their name implies, spring bulbs sprout and bloom in early spring when the temperatures begin to warm. After blooming, the plants store nutrients in their bulbs so they can bloom the following season. But first, the bulbs must go through the seasonal changes. They need to be cooled by going through a winter. But you can fool the bulbs into thinking they are going through winter by artificially chilling them.

How Can You Force a Bulb to Bloom?

Getting a spring bulb to bloom out of season is not difficult. You can force most any spring bulb by planting in soil, water or a shallow rock garden partially filled with water. The common denominator is that you will need to chill the bulbs. Some bulbs that come from a gardening store or nursery are labeled pre-chilled for forcing. Otherwise, you will need to store them at 35 to 45 degrees F for 10 to 15 weeks, depending on the type of bulb. A root cellar or unheated garage will work, or you can store them in a refrigerator.

Two Easy Methods for Beautiful Booms

Here are two examples you can follow to bring a burst of color to your holiday entertaining season.

  • A forest of tulips: For this method, you'll need a decorative pot or planter filled with high-quality potting soil. You can use your own tulip bulbs that have finished blooming or buy bulbs from a nursery or seed store. Pre-chill the bulbs for at least 15 weeks. About 4 weeks before you want your blooms, remove them from the cold and plant them in your planter. Place the tulip bulbs with the rounded root side down, pushing it about three-fourths of the way into the soil. The pointed top will be sticking out of the soil. For the best effect, plant as many as will fit in the pot. They can be touching each other, but not on top of each other. Water the planter and place in a cool (about 50 degrees F) dry place away from direct sun. After they sprout, move them to a warmer, brighter location. Keep the soil moist, and in about a month, you'll have a planter filled with the stunning color of your choice.
  • Hyacinths in glass: With this technique, you grow your bulbs in water. Choose an elegant glass vase to hold your high quality flower bulbs. Nurseries often sell vases specifically for forcing bulbs. Choose your vase and bulb so that the bulb will not rest on the bottom, but will be trapped partially down into the vase. After chilling the hyacinth bulb for at least 10 weeks, place the bulb into the vase, with the pointed side toward the top of the vase. Fill the vase with water just so the water barely touches the root surface. Place in a location with bright indirect light and in 3 to 4 weeks, you'll have an elegant single bloom. You can also place several hyacinth bulbs in a shallow pan with pebbles or marbles. Fill the pan with water just to the bottom of the bulb. You'll soon have a garden of fresh hyacinths.