Want to know about forcing bulbs this winter? Here's how.

Want to force bulbs this winter? Here’s how.

Tracey FitzgibbonQ: You were going to continue teaching about forcing bulbs for me? – G.T., Los Lunas

A: I sure will. As I explained, forcing bulbs is the process of making them grow and bloom at a time when they usually wouldn’t. So here’s how …

You’ve hopefully been shopping for bulbs and have them sitting in the vegetable crisper bin in the refrigerator. Now, you need to decide which of the two traditional methods of forcing you are going to employ.

You can force in a draining pot using potting soil, I call it the soil method, almost like growing a houseplant, or try the pebble and water method.

The soil method for forcing bulbs is easy. You’ll need a pot that drains. I use plain old 6-to-8-inch pots, a paper coffee filter or paper towel, fresh potting soil, the bulbs and most importantly, a saucer to set the pot on.

Line your pot with the filter or paper towel and fill the pot half way with your new potting soil. Next, set the bulbs on the soil and push them down gently to get good contact with the soil, so they sit up straight, but don’t bury them. Fill the balance of the pot with soil gently encasing the bulbs until no more than the top third of the bulb is exposed. Don’t bury them completely.

Next, get the pots to the sink and with the sink stopper in place, very gently pour water over the planting until the planting is thoroughly dampened. If the soil compacts a lot, consider adding a smidgen more soil to the planting. Allow the pots to sit in the sink for a while, making sure that the soil is completely wet. After a bit, take the pots out of the water, drip them off so to speak and set them on their saucer.

Place in a spot that will offer really bright light yet coolish temperatures. Within days, keeping the pot watered enough to keep it damp, the bulbs should start to wake up and grow. Variety and the amount of offered light will be determining factors on how quickly they’ll grow and come into bloom for you.

Within weeks you will have pots full of growing bulbs sporting blooms galore. How many bulbs you can put in the pot will depend on the pot’s width. Usually I can get 5-to-7 tulip bulbs in a 6- or 8-inch pot. My opinion is the more bulbs you can fit in the pots you choose, the better the reward.

Onward to my favorite, the water method. Here you’ll need a container that does not drain. I prefer clear glass containers like casserole dishes along with pebbles or glass pieces like marbles, even small seashells will work. At arts and crafts stores you can find the glass “stones” in a myriad of different colors and thrift stores are a good place to find inexpensive casserole dishes. I use clear containers so it’s easier to monitor the water level, and also to witness the root growth in the pot.

Pour in a layer of your pebbles or glass pieces into the dish. You’ll want it deep enough so the bulbs aren’t sitting flush on the container bottom. Then set your bulbs and sort of wiggle them enough so they will sit for you.

Remember, you’re not burying the bulbs, just sitting them on the stone layer. Once you have the container bulb filled, pour more “stones” around the bulbs to offer them the support they’ll need. Poke the stones around the bulbs to make sure they are stable. Remember to keep the top third to a fourth of the bulbs exposed. Once you have the bulbs covered and supported, pour enough water into the container so just the bottom of each bulb is touched by the water. Don’t fill the container to the brim ever.

Finally place the planting in that brightly lit, yet cool spot, and get ready to watch the magic. Monitor the water level in the container, never allowing the water to dry up. Soon the bulbs will awaken offering you the simple, yet remarkable, gift of life.

Forcing bulbs is an art, just not a difficult one, so get out there and enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving season to you all while you’re Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to features@abqjournal.com.


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