Let’s face it – the landscape looks “blah” in mid-winter.
In spite of the evergreens, beautifully textured tree bark and bright berries that the season affords, most folks crave flower color long before the end of chilly weather. If you find yourself longing for flowers, try “forcing” plants into bloom.
Forcing is an excellent method for coloring your world during winter and early spring. This simple process brings a plant into flower out of season. Excellent specimens for forcing include spring-blooming shrubs and trees as well as bulbs. Bulbs are particularly simple to force when planted either indoors our outside in containers because growing conditions are easier to tailor to specific potted plants.
Bulbs are kept in a cool, dark place for a few weeks to months (depending on species) before bringing them into a light, warm environment and giving them moisture. The changing conditions encourage early bloom.
Bulbs suitable for forcing include amaryllis, hyacinths, tulips, irises, crocuses and narcissus cultivars including paperwhites.
SUITABLE SOIL MIX
The American Horticultural Society gives the following advice for forcing bulbs: Choose a suitable soil mix that drains well; bulbs rot quickly in soggy soil. Choose either plastic or clay pots. Clay is especially suited to bulbs because the soil mix will dry out more quickly after watering than in plastic.
Before filling the pot with soil mix, place a piece of screening or netting over the pot’s drainage hole to help prevent the soil from washing away. The screen also deters bugs and worms from entering the container. The number of bulbs to plant per pot depends on both container size and bulb size.
Plant most bulbs (pointed side up) at twice their own depth. Leave about one finger-width between each bulb. Ideally, bulbs should be positioned in pots at about the same depths as they would if grown outdoors. However, if the bulbs are too large for this to be practical, use a pot that is deep enough to allow at least an inch of soil mix beneath the bulbs for root development. Do not press the bulbs into the mix or otherwise compress the soil.
Two or more types of bulbs may be planted in the same container. If so doing, plant each bulb type at its recommended depth, carefully covering each layer with soil before planting the next type of bulb. Next, cover all the bulbs with soil mix, allowing at least an inch of open space below the pot’s rim.
While small bulbs should be covered completely, many large bulbs such as tulips may be planted with their tips showing slightly. Amaryllis should be planted with their necks and shoulders uncovered. Topdress bulb pots with a layer of horticultural grit or mulch to help retain moisture.
After planting, water to ensure the soil is lightly moist. Keep the pots in a cool place away from light and draft. Do not allow the pots to freeze, and do not allow the soil mix to dry completely. Check the pots regularly. When new shoots are visible, roots should be formed. Move the containers gradually into a brighter environment. When flower buds form, offer the plants even more light and warmth. Rotate pots regularly to evenly expose shoots to light.
Hyacinth bulbs may be forced in specialized glass containers that hold one bulb each. Simply fill the container with water and place the bulb with its roots just barely touching the water. Keep the container in a cool room away from sunlight, and change the water often, maintaining it at the same level. When flower buds form, move the plant to a bright, warm room.
You may also get a jump on spring by forcing branches to flower ahead of schedule. Many flowering trees and shrubs are candidates for forcing indoors, such as redbud, quince, honeysuckle, viburnum, pear, apricot, vitex, forsythia and deciduous magnolia. Generally, shrub branches are easier to force than trees.
Select stems that have swollen flowerbuds. Cut branch sections 2-3 feet long if using tall containers, 12 inches or shorter for small containers. (Use vases, bottles, jars, jugs, etc.) Cut each stem at an angle, and immediately place the cut end in a bucket filled with warm water. Once indoors, prepare another bucket of warm water for conditioning the branches. Add a floral preservative and about a half-teaspoon of bleach to the water, stirring it well. You may substitute lemon-lime soda for the preservative.
After preparing the water bucket, cut the ends of stems again, making a slit at the end of each stem to promote water intake. After trimming, place each stem in the second water bucket. When finished cutting, place the bucket in a cool room in indirect light.
Mist the stems daily to keep the buds moist and viable. When you see color in the buds, arrange the stems in containers, and keep them in a brightly lit room, changing the water often.
Resources: American Horticultural Society, Southern Living
For more info call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County, 817-579-3280.