Raising your own bulbs from seeds takes commitment, but gardeners who stick with it are deeply rewarded.
Not only are homegrown bulbs less expensive than store-bought, but they also allow you to grow unusual plants that you may not be able to find otherwise. Plus, you'll reap the satisfaction of having raised them from scratch.
Scott Canning, director of horticulture at Wave Hill in the Bronx, explains the process from seed to bloom.
Bulb Growing How-To
1. Determine whether the bulb you're raising is a summer or winter grower. Summer growers are sown in the spring; winter growers are sown in the fall.
2. Prepare the pot by adding sharp sand to a seed-starting mix. Aim for a ratio of 3 or 4 parts mix to 1 part sand. (If you cannot find sharp sand, chicken grit makes a fine substitute.) It's also helpful to pre-moisten your mix with warm water.
3. Sow thinly! The seedlings will live in this pot for 12 to 15 months, so give them some room. Sow fine, small seeds on the surface, and lightly cover larger seeds.
4. Store the seed pots in a dry place away from direct sunlight, avoiding all extremes of temperature. Hardy bulbs will need the winter season duplicated in a fridge or cold frame for three to five months. Tropical bulbs may benefit from heat, but most bulbs germinate better with the gently fluctuating temperature difference between day and night, so skip the heat mat. Keep pots moist, as you would other seedlings.
5. Growth will resume at the start of the next growing season (during the same season in which the seeds were sown). Watch for shoots beginning, and resume watering lightly. A small amount of liquid fertilizer (1/2-strength at most) is helpful during active growth.
6. After the first growing season, it's time to "prick out" your baby bulbs. Pot into an appropriate mix in a pot size suitable for the plant to grow, at the same depth as you found the bulb in the seed mix, or very slightly deeper. Water carefully, as you would any transplant.
7. You are on your way! Bulbs will sometimes sprout small flowers during the second year. With luck, most will bloom by the third or fourth season.