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Refrigerate bulbs for 3-4 weeks before planting

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Q: How long do I need to keep bulbs that I plan on forcing, in the refrigerator?

A: You should aim on a period of three to four weeks. In early December, you’ll be ready to plant them.

Keep the bulbs in the vegetable crisper drawer of the fridge in paper bags. I’d mark the bags, too, showing they contain bulbs. Sillier things have happened, and you don’t want the bulbs used like an onion! It’s also best to keep apples away from your bulbs. The apples give off a gas that can maim or stunt the bulbs. I won’t even keep apples in the fridge while I’m chilling mine.

So get your bulbs to chilling now and soon you’ll be able to plant up pots of treasures certain to delight.

Q: It’ll be a good weekend to plant up some bowls of pansies, don’t you think?

A: Now that we’re experiencing cooler temperatures, especially in the morning, I am with you.

I would suggest setting your bowls where they’ll still have a bit of shade in the afternoon until we’re out of these unseasonably warm afternoon temperatures. I’m just a bit concerned that since most bowls are shallow, these nice afternoon temps could heat up the soil to the point that the pansies could suffer. As the afternoon temperatures continue to fall, you’ll be able to move the bowls into more sunny areas to decorate for the winter months.

Be sure to use new potting soil if these bowls have had plants growing in them for a season or two as most of the fertility will have been used by the previous inhabitants. Be sure you’re using potting soil and not straight compost or “garden soil,” as those products would be too “hot,” or overly fertile in containers.

Your bowls drain, too, right? Soggy pansies are very unhappy pansies. If the bowls are deep enough, you could tuck in several types of shorter, spring-blooming bulbs to give you an extra surprise come spring. Bulbs – like crocus, snowdrops and grape hyacinths – would work wonderfully.

Apply a liquid root stimulator just after planting to give the new treasures a leg up. In late December, early January, consider applying a fertilizer that contains a high nitrogen level in its mix. A straight lawn fertilizer that does not contain any weed killer is absolutely perfect. I have been taught that established pansies perform best if given that “hot” fertilizer as the season progresses.

I really think it’s the heat of the nitrogen that keeps pansies thriving in the cold weather. If you are planting any deeper pots or straight into the ground, go ahead and plant at will. Those plants would have enough additional insulation from the heat and settle in nicely if planted now.

Q: I have been caring for the poinsettia that I got last holiday season and it’s done really well. What do I need to do to it so it colors again?

A: You’ll need to trigger it in a space that will get at least 12 hours of dark each 24-hour period and is cooler than the rest of the world for the next 25 to 30 days. Guest rooms are a good place for this. But that means DARK. No having to go in the room, flick on the light to grab an extra blanket or whatever. If you think the plant’s triggering could be jeopardized, invent a sleeping tent! I’ve made covers out of large grocery bags wrapped by black plastic bags cut and taped to fit. You want the covers to prevent any light from entering.

OK, so you’ve got the room or cover all ready; here’s the rest of the program. Each morning you either fling open the curtains or uncover your poinsettia. Let’s say at 7 a.m. Then that evening at 7 p.m., you close the curtains or replace the cover. No light. You need to be married to this schedule to get the poinsettia encouraged to color.

Now, while you are triggering the plant, you’ll still want to keep it watered, just being sure to monitor its water requirements. Usually, in a cooler spot the plant won’t use or need quite as much. You can use this process to trigger any Christmas cactus to come into bloom for you, too. Just in time for the coming holiday season.

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio Rancho/West Side Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.

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