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Forcing Bulbs: A Quick and Easy Way to Brighten a Winter’s Day

By Melinda Myers February 08, 2024 Hobbies

Gardening is good for the mind, body and spirit. But you don’t need a large garden, strong back or 365 days of beautiful weather to add some fresh greenery and color to your life.

All you need is a bit of time, some spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths and crocus, a container with drainage holes and quality potting mix.

Plant Your Flowering Bulbs

You may still find spring flowering bulbs at your local garden center, on-line through bulb retailers or left over from this fall’s outdoor planting season. And if you can’t find any spare bulbs I bet one of your gardening friends has a few they’d be willing to share.

Here’s how to create a simple planting in a shallow container deep enough to cover the bulbs. First, cover the bottom of the container with an inch or more of potting mix. Pack it full of bulbs, pointed side up.

Place taller bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in the center. Position shorter ones like crocus and grape hyacinths toward the outer edge of the pot and scattered in between the taller ones. Place the flat side of tulips towards the outside of the pot for a better display.

Next, cover the bulbs with potting mix and water thoroughly. Place them in a cool location with temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees for 15 weeks. This allows them to form roots and initiate flowering.

Give Them a Chill

So, where do you find a suitable spot to give them a chill? A spare refrigerator works well. A friend of mine said “Every gardener needs a spare refrigerator for their bulbs and beer.” After all, I live in Wisconsin.

Those gardening in colder climates can sink the pot in a vacant part of the garden. Once the ground lightly freezes, mulch with evergreen boughs to make removing the pot easier. A gardening friend used to empty his prefab water feature for winter. He set the planted pots inside, mulched and covered the opening with a plywood board. The pots received the needed chill without freezing solid and it was as easy as lifting the plywood lid to remove the pots.

You can also set the container in an unheated garage. Add a bit of insulation if needed to prevent the soil and bulbs from freezing. You can store them in a bag of mulch or potting mix, storage containers or other similar items that seem to accumulate in all our garages; these all work well.

Create a Spring Garden

To extend your enjoyment, go big and create a long blooming spring garden in a deeper and wider container. Select a variety of bulbs with early-, mid- and late-spring bloom times. You will enjoy the changing beauty of these colorful flowers over a longer period of time.

Begin by covering the bottom of the pot with several inches of soil. Set the largest bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths and tulips on this layer. Add just enough potting mix to cover the bulbs. Now add the medium sized bulbs like smaller tulips and alliums when planting three layers. Cover with soil and fill the top layer with crocus, squills and grape hyacinths. Cover with potting mix and water thoroughly.

Give these a 15-week chill as well. Check the containers and water as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. After they receive their 15-week chill you can begin bringing your potted containers out of storage and into a cool, sunny location indoors. It takes about four weeks for the bulbs to sprout and bloom.

Or, wait until the worst of winter has past and place a few pots outside on your patio, deck or front steps. You and your visitors will enjoy the spring color indoors and out.

For more gardening ideas, go to our Gardening section.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Where have you been able to find the best bulbs and greatest variety? What are your favorite bulbs for planting? Do you have chilling and storage tips to share? Please join in the conversation.

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The Author

Award-winning TV/radio host and author Melinda Myers has over 30 years of horticulture experience. She has written 20+ books, including Small Space Gardening and Midwest Gardener's Handbook. She hosts the “Melinda’s Garden Moment” TV & radio program and Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. You can visit her website here

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