Arts & Leisure Gardening

Ask a master gardener: How to force spring bulbs

AMARYLLIS BULBS PRODUCE large, showy blooms, a great way to brighten up a home in late winter or spring. photo / Bonnie Kirn Donahue

Watching the first flowering bulbs appear from the thawing ground in spring is one of my favorite times of the year. Luckily we don’t have to wait all winter to have spring blooms. A great way to do this at home is by forcing bulbs.

Forcing bulbs means tricking the plants into thinking it is time to bloom. Some bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths require a lengthy simulated experience of a cold, dark winter, followed by simulating a warm spring, to bloom.

However, paperwhites (Narcissus) and amaryllis (Hippeastrum) can be forced faster without the weeks of artificial winter. Paperwhites will bloom within four to six weeks after potting, while amaryllis can take up to eight weeks.

Select a container with a hole at the bottom for draining excess water. Fill the container with moistened potting soil, and plant the bulbs (pointed tip side up), making sure that the roots have two to three inches of room below to spread out.

Amaryllis bulbs are large and only one may fit in a 6- to 8-inch pot. Multiple amaryllis bulbs can be planted in larger diameter containers. Paperwhites are smaller bulbs so can be planted closely together.

For amaryllis, select a container that will allow two to three inches of soil under the bulb, while leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. Paperwhites only need their tips exposed. To make the soil easier to work with, moisten it prior to planting.

Instead of soil, these bulbs also can be grown in clear glass jars or vases over decorative glass marbles or stones. Place two to three inches of stones at the bottom of the container. Place the bulbs on top, and add water until it just touches the roots. The bulbs should not be submerged.

Place the potted bulbs in a bright, warm location, making sure to water as needed.

After the bulbs have flowered, it is very important to cut back the flowering stem as soon as the bloom wilts. Cut the stem a few inches above the bulb, leaving the leaves. Doing this will allow the bulb to pull energy gathered in the leaves back into the bulb to put toward larger flowers the following year.

Amaryllis can re-bloom indoors year after year with proper care. After the leaves have dried and the bulb has gone dormant, store your bulbs in a cool, dry place with plenty of airflow.

It may be late in the season to order bulbs for growing indoors, so try your local garden center, farm supply or grocery store.

Bonnie Kirn Donahue is a UVM Extension Master Gardener and landscape designer from central Vermont.

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