A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Forcing Spring Bulbs in Winter

An easy project to fill your home with beauty and fragrance  
by Rebecca Shea  
The bleakest days of deep winter can be brightened by colorful and fragrant blooms with minimal   Forcing spring bulbs is an easy wintertime gardening project providing maximum style. All you need are bulbs, planting containers, soil, and in certain cases a cold, dark location for root development.

effort.

Spring-flowering bulbs contain all they need for blooming. Inside each bulb is a tiny flower, leaves, and a stem and an ample supply of food for nourishment.  
While almost all bulbs will bloom indoors, some varieties are simply easier to force than others. They are paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis, and hyacinth. All forcing bulbs require some chilling but paperwhites and amaryllis are pre-chilled so they are a snap. Blooms can come as quickly as 4 to 6 weeks. Hyacinth bulbs require a more extensive chilling period but are not difficult and worth the wait.
Paperwhite narcissus bulbs have long been popular as indoor winter bloomers for decades. Their beauty and charm is best displayed in the simplest container. I like to use shallow wooden crates and woven baskets dressed with hidden plastic liners. An old soup tureen or antique, silver serving dish are attractive and clever vessels for a more formal tabletop display.
Amaryllis bulbs produce stunning, large-scale blooms. Try two or three bulbs in a large clay pot for a bold and beautiful display. Or use various clear vases usually meant for cut-flower bouquets to show off the bulb and the blooming flower in a modern and versatile display. These arrangements can be moved around the house easily to brighten any spot.
Hyacinths are special in any color. Cluster two blue, two pink and three white in one container for a large display or place a single bulb in an antique “hyacinth glass” or forcing vase for vintage charm.
Paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs may be forced in soil or pebbles. When potting your bulbs in soil any commercial mix will suffice. Pebbles should be clean and uniform in size. Decorative stones are an option.
Hyacinths can be forced on water or in soil. Growing hyacinths on water with a transparent forcing vase offers a unique opportunity to watch the roots develop. Forcing vases have a clever pinched neck that cradles the bulb above the water without contact.   
Potting methods for paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs require one to two inches of soil or pebbles at the bottom of the container for the roots to catch hold. Keep the tips of the bulb flush with the top of the pot or just below. Fill in around the bulbs with material to secure them in place, leaving the top quarter of the bulb exposed. Water the soil till damp or bring the water level in the pebbles to just below the base of the bulb.
Position your potted paperwhites in a cool place away from direct sunlight and check them frequently for water. Water weekly until vertical growth begins. Now move the container to a sunny window and continue watering as necessary.

 

Place potted amaryllis bulbs in a warm place with direct sunlight, 70 degrees F is ideal. Water sparingly till the stems develop and then more frequently when the bud appears.

Hyacinths need a cool dark place to make their roots. A shelf in a spare refrigerator, a cold cellar or enclosed porch under a box are options. The temperature must be  consistently 35-45 degrees. Continue to water as the roots develop.  After twelve weeks, transition the hyacinths to a light but cool location. As the flower stalks emerge, set the bulbs in a sunny window 65-70 degrees. To keep the stalk and flower sturdy and straight rotate the container 90 degrees each day.
Once your spectacular blooms have arrived preserving the flowers is a priority. To prolong bloom time, water regularly and keep your arrangement in a cool place. Try to  avoid overexposure to harsh, direct sunlight. Hyacinths can withstand some direct sunlight so line them up on a window sill for a cheerful display.
Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus make superb cut flowers. When the first bud has colored and is about to open is the best time for cutting. Consider sharing some spring cheer with a neighbor.
Should you catch the forcing bug, and who could blame you because Spring in winter is an attainable luxury, other spring-flowering bulbs such as the crocus, squill, snowdrops, daffodils and tulips may also be forced. They are a bit fussier but worth a try.