Winter and Spring just wouldn’t be the same without the glorious colour and delicate charm of the flowering bulbs like classic yellow Daffodil, sweet Jonquils, exotic Narcissus, richly fragrant Hyacinths and the incomparable Tulips. Early Autumn is the best time to start planting bulbs for that Spring show but the planting season will last right into the end of Autumn and early Winter for the hardiest varieties.
While most people plant bulbs in the ground for outdoor displays, bulbs can also be grown very successfully in containers. Container grown bulbs can be allowed to flower outside naturally as they would in the garden, or the pot can be brought inside for a splash of spring colour on a cold, wet, miserable wintery day.
And container grown bulbs can be forced into flower many weeks or even months ahead of their relatives in the garden. Bulb forcing is one of the ways the Florist can provide Spring blooms out of season in the middle of Winter. And forcing bulbs is easily done at home.
The easiest bulbs to force include: Anemone, Crocus, most Daffodils, Jonquils and Narcissus; Hyacinths; Freesia; Galanthus (Snow Drop), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari); Lachenalia, Ranunculus, Sparaxis and many minor bulbs, and the hardier varieties of Tulips, especially the red and yellow varieties of Oxford and Appledorn Tulip. With some care and skill almost any bulb that grows in the garden can be forced or grown successfully in a container.
If you want to force bulbs in pots it is most important to plant early so start now! This is because the bulb must have a sustained period of cool, damp, (sometimes) dark and cold conditions that simulates Winter weather in order for the bulb to develop a proper root system that can support the flower.
The warm climate bulbs, those native to warmer climates, do not need severely cold refrigeration. They need only sustained cool, lightly damp but sunny conditions over the extended Autumn and Winter period to bring them into healthy and strong leafy growth and then into bloom.
This can be done in a bright and sunny but unheated room or a cool glasshouse. They are easily grown outdoors in containers or in the ground in most moderate Mediterranean climates that experience not worse than minor frosts of an occasional light freeze.
Commonly grown warm climate bulbs include:
Anemone coronaria, Saffron Crocus, Dutch Iris, Freesia, Ixia, Lachenalia, Ornithogalum, Paperwhite Narcissus, Sparaxis, Ranunculus, and a few other minor varieties. These all need cool glasshouse-type conditions but no severe cold refrigeration which can actually harm or kill them.
First of all choose a pot or bulb bowl that allows good drainage. Use a freely draining potting soil, like a specially prepared Bulb Mix, to insure a light, airy soil that will not stagnate in the cold wintery wet conditions to come. Bulbs can be crowded a little and will still produce good blooms the first year.
This is because the bulb’s flower is already contained within the bulb and only needs the proper conditions to expand and bloom. A 10cm (4”) pot can accommodate up to 6 Crocus, Galanthus (Snow Drop), or Grape Hyacinths. A 15cm (6”) pot will hold three medium to small or one large Hyacinth, Tulips or Daffodils. While a 30cm (12”) bulb bowl can easily hold a dozen good sized bulbs for a really special effect.
When planting, partly fill the pot with soil, then place the bulbs, pointed end up (just the reverse with Anemone and Ranunculus with the pointed end down) on the soil bed and fill in around them with soil up to or slightly over the necks of the bulbs.
A small amount of bulb fertiliser can be added to the soil at planting or sprinkled over the top, but it is best when mixed within the potting soil. Then water in thoroughly and place the pot in a cool, damp, dark spot (under shrubs or trees, a cool cellar, buried in a trench, or even in the refrigerator but not the freezer! ) to simulate Winter.
Be sure to water the pots regularly. Paperwhite Narcissus, Dutch Iris and many Jonquils need only a few weeks of this cool weather before they sprout and all the warm-climate bulbs need only to be kept cool and bright and moist to get them started.
But almost all cold-climate bulbs need 8-10 weeks or more of this cold treatment and always give Tulips 12-14 week of very cool refrigeration. Then bring the pots out into a bright, cool to mild spot and they will begin to flower in a few weeks. Staggering when the pots come out will insure Spring blooms all Winter long!
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