Forcing Bulbs

The Martha Stewart Show, September 2006

In late winter and early spring, pots of flowering bulbs, such as bright-yellow miniature daffodils or purple hyacinths, add a touch of cheerful color to a room and make wonderful centerpieces for a table.

All hardy spring bulbs require a period of dormancy before they can bloom. Normally, they rest over winter. But you can simulate winter rest in your refrigerator or cold basement to force the bulbs early. This simple technique produces stunning results in a very short time (about eight to 14 weeks).

Choose the best bulbs available. They should be dense and heavy and free from mold, mildew, discoloration, or a peeling outer shell. Also, consider how much rest time you'll need to allow for the bulbs. Miniature 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils require only eight to 10 weeks of cold. But bulbs such as tulips, regular-size daffodils, grape hyacinths, and dwarf irises will need 14 weeks of cold sleep, then another two to three weeks to achieve full bloom.

Some bulbs are more easily forced than others. You can try any of the following: Crocus chrysanthus, Iris reticulata 'Joyce,' Iris reticulata 'Natasha,' Iris reticulata 'Harmony,' Muscari latifolium, Narcissus cyclamineus, Narcissus 'Rijnvelds,' or hyacinths.

Tools and Materials
Terra-cotta clay pots with a drainage hole
Potting soil
Assorted bulbs
Light stakes or sticks, optional
Twist ties, optional

Forcing Bulbs How-To
1. Cover the bottom of a clay pot with about 1 inch of gravel.

2. Fill the pot with soil mix, allowing room for the bulbs to sit just below the rim. You will need at least 2 inches of soil below the base of your bulbs.

3. Place the flat side of the bulbs against the edge of the container. Bulbs should be positioned as closely together as possible. Be sure that the root is faced downward. It is okay if they touch: The closer they are, the fuller they will look when they bloom. Cover with soil.

4. Place the pot in a cold basement (ideally staying around 40 degrees) or you can place the pot in a 40 degree trench in the ground, covered with straw. The bulbs should not freeze, and never be more than 50 degrees. Alternatively, place the pot in a refrigerator; be sure to check often to ensure that the bulb doesn't get too dry. Water if you notice drying. When using a refrigerator, be sure to not keep fruit or vegetables in it, as the ethalyne given off by fruits will cause the bulbs to ripen prematurely.

5. Store for about eight to 10 weeks to mimic the winter dormancy phase (longer if you are planting larger daffodils or tulips).

6. After eight to 10 weeks, when white shoots first appear, take the container out of the refrigerator. For the first week, keep it in a cool place, about 60 degrees.

7. Once the sprouts begin to turn green, move the container to a sunny window. The temperature should still be cool, about 68 degrees. If it's too warm, the stems will grow long and leggy, giving the plant a gangly look. Bulbs need a lot of water at this stage, so check them daily. Daffodils may need support; you can use light stakes or sticks tied to the stems with twist ties.


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