? Bulbs Forum FAQ: Forcing Bulbs

Frequently Asked Questions

 ? Where Can I Get Pre-Forced (Pre-Cooled) Bulbs?

subscriber - I am going to try to do allot of forced tulip growing this winter. Rather than having to force them all myself I would like to get them pre-forced. Any suggestions on where to get them?

Lisa Finley - I know that this forum really does not like Brecks, and I am not endorsing them, however, I recently got a catalog from them in which they are selling forced bulbs in planters, ready to bloom. They are rather expensive. But hey, they do the work. And are guaranteed.

Elizabeth/ Z5 NH - White Flower Farm sells 'pre-forced' tulips, etc. Example from their holiday catalog: 18 red tulips, pre-potted $34. They say they start to ship in early December and that they will bloom by Christmas.

Lots of other ready bulbs, as well. You can reach them at 1-800-411-6159, or you can just purchase paperwhites and not worry about the cooling period.

 ? I Need Instructions for Forcing Bulbs for Christmas. -

Kathy - What is the correct procedure for forcing tulips so that they will bloom at Christmas time? How much chill time do they need? Can you put the bulbs in the refrigerator with all the other food, or are they sensitive to the gases emitted by vegetables, like flowers are?

Skip MNZ4 - If you want flowers for the end of December you should be potting them up soon. First, a little step by step instruction on potting the bulbs for forcing. Use a container that is large enough, 6" to 8" is fine, so you can pot several bulbs. Use pots with a bottom drain hole. Place some growing medium (Use Jiffy Mix or somesuch) in the bottom and tamp it down slightly. Gently push the bulbs, basal plate down, into the growing medium. You can crowd them but leave a little space between the bulbs so they don't touch. Place the flat side of tulip bulbs next to the side of the pot. Add potting medium so that the tips of the bulbs are covered. Water thoroughly so that their roots are encouraged to grow.

Place the bulbs in a cool place for the necessary length of time. The temperature should be between 35-48 degrees F. This forces the bulb into "vernalization" which is the bud formation phase. If you store them in the refrigerator, you might want to put the pots in plastic bags to prevent drying of the soil. You should check them weekly and add water to keep the medium moist. Do not store apples or pears, etc., in the refrigerator along with the bulbs. Ripening fruits give off ethelene gas which will cause the bulbs to be "blind" and they will not flower. Cooling periods vary by genus and cultivar but in general it is from 10 to 17 weeks. Crocus flower in about 14 weeks. So, if you planted some Crocus corms on October 1, you could expect them to flower sometime during the first week of January. Tulips can take up to 17 weeks.

Not all bulbs can be forced. Check the catalogs so see which ones are recommended for forcing. If you like Daffodils, a cultivar called Tête-à-Tête, a delightful miniature, is excellent for forcing and takes about 13 weeks of cooling. Also, you can also buy pre-cooled bulbs such as Paperwhites (some people dislike the fragrance) or Hyacinths. As soon as the buds start to poke their noses above the soil, bring them out into a warm room indoors. Of course, continue to keep the potting medium moist. You can pot your bulbs over a period of several weeks, take them out of the refrigerator as the buds emerge, and have a continuous bloom for several weeks. Your family might go hungry what with all the fridge space taken up by your pots!

Andie Rathbone (MO/Zone 6a) - O.K. This is about the 5th posting on forcing bulbs, so here's the instructions, courtesy of The Bulb Expert, a nifty book I picked up at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Types of bulbs usually forced are large, early flowering bulbs (hyacinths, crocus, narcissus, etc.). You can force tulips, but they are harder to do. Put a peat-based compost at the bottom of the bowl or pot and set the bulbs on it. A 6" pot will hold 3 hyacinths, 6 narcissi, 6 tulips, or 12 crocus. The bulbs should be close together, but they should not touch each other nor touch the sides of the container. Do not force the bulbs down into the compost.

Fill the pot with more compost, pressing it firmly but not too tightly around the bulb. When finished, the tips should be just above the surface and there should be about 1/2" between the top of the compost and the container. Water if necessary so that the growing medium is damp but not soggy.

The bulbs need a cold, but frost free period in the dark. A temperature of 40 F is ideal. The cold, dark period will last from 8-14 weeks, depending on variety. Check occasionally to make sure that the compost is still moist and that above-ground growth hasn't started yet. Any warmth at this stage will result in utter failure.

When the shoots are 1-2" high it is time to move the container into a room indoors. This room should be cool (50F)is ideal. Place in a shady spot at first and then move near a window for a few days. The leaves will begin to develop and in a couple of weeks flower buds will start to form. When the buds begin to color the container should be moved to the chosen site for flowering. The spot should be bright, but not sunny and free from drafts and away from radiator or heating ducts. Keep the compost moist at all times. Turn the container occasionally to promote even growth.

We bought a spare refrigerator (used for about $50) to force bulbs. (It doubles as a beer/soda cooler in the summer), This makes it easier than trying to keep the bulbs away from apples, and not having any space for the family's food.

You can also buy pre-cooled bulbs, which allow you to skip all this. Most paperwhites are already pre-cooled. White Flower Farm, also has a large selection of pre-cooled bulbs.

To avoid family starvation, we bought a cheap refrigerator and put it in the basement. In the summer it's used for beer and soda and in the fall and winter for the collection of pots holding bulbs for forcing. You can stagger your "planting"" in this way and have flowers from Christmas through the real beginnings of spring outdoors.

 ? Bulbs to be Forced Are Sprouting Too Early. What Should I Do?

Janet Menke MD/Zone 6 - I followed the many instructions given on this forum, bought recommended books and read them all twice, planted my bulbs last weekend but now am a little concerned. One of the varieties which is a single jonquil is starting to sprout already. The refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees. Will these bulbs still bloom with this occurring? Should I take them out now? Should I give up on the chilling with them and plant them? I'd appreciate any thoughts on this.

Duane Reid - Bulbs will sometimes have a little top growth even before they are planted. The bulb is using some of its stored energy to start sprouting in the warm temperature.

This won't hurt the bulb. If you keep them at 40 F (correct temp), they should slow or stop sprouting. 12 weeks cooling is the proper period for dafs.

 ? How Do I Force an Amaryllis Bulb?

Tony - mid-Atlantic - The latest issue of Southern Living says that just started amaryllis should be placed in full sun. My daughter did that last year and got a fast-growing stringy plant. I just bought two bulbs for Christmas and am nervous. What should I do?

Clare B (MO zone 6) - Go ahead and start your just bought amaryllis. I find that they bloom inside just fine. But they really want to gather some sunrays after blooming in order to build up strong foliage and reserves for the next year's bloom. So as soon as weather permits put the amaryllis outside. I like to bury mine at ground level in its pot. At the end of summer/beginning of fall, I bring it inside in the dim basement and water scantily once weekly for 3 weeks. Then, I withhold almost all water until spring, when I can put it outside again. This gets the bulb on a spring blooming schedule. Of course, the leaves will have browned well before spring revival time. I never do try to get amaryllis to bloom again at Christmas.

N. D. Ferry (TX 8b) - TX/8b - I grew amaryllis indoors for many years when we lived up north. I think the secret is bottom heat! My dining room had a window seat with a radiator under it. the window faced east. I kept the pots on it until the flowers started fading and then moved them to a cooler windowsill.

I would put the pots outdoors in May and feed them with half strength Miracle-Gro every week until Labor Day. On Labor Day I cut all the leaves off and put them in the basement. On Halloween I would start watering them again, and they would go back on the window seat when growth had started.

Now I can't guarantee that all the flowers will open at Christmas-I usually had a few wait until January, but almost always had good luck using this method. Re-potting can sometimes mean no flowers for a year.

 ? How Do You Force Anemones?

Eddie - 6 - I have had a bag full of Anemones in the fridge for the last 2 months and am about to try to force grow them indoors. Before I do so I was hoping that someone would be able to give me some pointers on them.

Lesley Maia - NYC-7 - There is a wonderful book published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden called Bulbs For Indoors. It has information on planting many kinds of bulbs in containers, as well as useful information such as which way is up on the Anemones :0). You can order the book (which is only $8.00, last time I checked) directly from the garden, by calling 718. 622.4433, ext 274. They are a great organization, and publish some beautiful books. I am a member, and besides discounts, you receive these lovely books quarterly. The bulb book is definitely worth having. Hope this helps.

mary - It is best to soak anemones in tepid water overnight. I believe the side with the little round ring (where the old stem was removed) is the part that faces up. I just planted mine that way. They haven't had time to come up, but when they do what a show! They are a must. (Anemones De Caen) I not sure if I spelled that right. There are different types of anemones.

 ? Help! The Crocuses I'm Forcing Have Stopped Growing! -

Joanne Boerner - I indoor forced some crocus bulbs in October. They were in my garage where I took them out in January. I live in zone 5, so my garage was pretty cold. I brought them inside under my grow lights in January and they grew for two weeks and then stopped. They are 2 inches above the soil. What should I do to get them going again. They've been "dormant" now for two weeks?

Skip - At this point it's not possible to say what happened. Crocus usually require a cold period of around 45 to 48 degrees F for about 14 to 15 weeks. The temperature should remain consistently at that reading. Dips to a lower temperature around 30 degrees or so won't hurt. However, if the corms are exposed to substantially higher temps, damage, such as desiccation, could occur. If we are generous with dates, October 1 to January 1 would give you about 12 weeks. If you planted them on January 15, we have a cooling period of 14 weeks. However, the big unknown is the environment in the garage. Put them in a sunny window where it is fairly cool. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet and be patient. I am not aware of anything that you could do to give them a "jump start" to get them going again.

 ? How Do I Grow Hyacinth in Glasses?

julie Hyman - Okay, I am a total novice. This is my first year attempting to grow bulbs. I have hyacinth bulbs in glasses and the roots are starting to grow. How do I know if they are okay?

Linda D. - I presume you purchased pre-cooled bulbs. After putting the bulbs in the water glass, they need to be stored in a cool dark place (temps 45-48 degrees). When the sprout of the bulb has grown 2 inches high, bring the bulbs into light (not direct sunlight) and watch them grow and bloom. Just check the water level - the water should not touch the base of the bulb. Takes about 12 weeks. Enjoy!

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