Between the months of November and March, many houseplants slow down their growth and cease flowering. This leaves most gardeners longing for a glimpse of something in bloom to tide them over until spring arrives. Forced bulbs, are the perfect solution for brightening up your winter windowsill.
With some planning and a little work invested upfront, you can keep your windowsills filled with pots of colorful bulbs for most of the winter.
A variety of bulbs can be coaxed into bloom indoors. Some, like the popular large-flowered amaryllis, can be kept from year to year, while others such as pots of daffodils or tulips are best thought of as annuals and discarded once they finish blooming.
Spring blooming bulbs adapted to cool climates such as crocus, hyacinths, tulips and muscari need periods of chilling after being potted up. Some require 8 to 12 weeks of cold temperatures for their roots to grow before they can be brought indoors and coaxed into flower.
I begin my bulb-growing season about the end of October. I plant a variety of spring bulbs in shallow plastic pots, water them well and place them in the back of my unheated barn. I check on them periodically over the winter, watering them as needed so they don’t dry out.
I start bringing a few pots at a time inside sometime after New Years. It is best to bring cold-forced bulbs into as cool a room in your house as possible so they can “wake up” slowly. Place the potted bulbs in as much sun as you can to keep the foliage from stretching, and be sure to keep the soil in the pots moist.
Other bulbs native to warmer climates, such as amaryllis or narcissus (often called paperwhites), don’t require a chilling period. These bulbs can be kept in a paper bag out of direct light for as long as four to six weeks until you are ready to plant them.
About six weeks before Thanksgiving I begin potting up paperwhite bulbs.
Paperwhites are among the easiest of bulbs to “force” into bloom. Provided their roots are kept moist and they are given adequate light, they will bloom about four to six weeks after planting.
Paperwhites are not fussy about what their roots are growing in as long as they have access to moisture. They can be grown in shallow bowls filled with gravel, stones or even marbles. Simply push the bottom third of the bulb down into the gravel and fill the bowl with water up to the bottom of the bulb. Do not let the “fat” part of the bulbs sit in water or they will rot. For best results, place four to six bulbs in each bowl.
Paperwhites can also be grown in pots filled with soil too. I find that the flowers will last a bit longer when soil is used instead of stones. If you plant in soil, be sure to use a container with drainage holes.
After planting, place your bulbs in a cool but bright spot. They should show signs of growth within a week or two.
Once they get started, they will grow very quickly. Keep in mind that a warm room will cause rapid growth with weak stems, while a cool room will keep the growth shorter and the stems sturdier.
The same holds true for the amount of light the bulbs receive while they are growing. The more sun they receive, the sturdier the stems will be.
The best scenario is a cool room with lots of sun. I find my paperwhites grow best in our spare bedroom, which is kept at 50 degrees. Once they are in bloom, I place the pots throughout the house.
After the blooms fade, I toss the bulbs, soil and all into the compost pile and start a new batch.
By the time the last of my potted bulbs finish blooming indoors, spring is on my doorstep, and the worst of winter is over.