When the grey, cold days of November start to put a damper on my favorite season, I love being able to look around my home and see fresh, green shoots preparing to blossom. In autumn, we don’t just plant bulbs outside here at Growing Grace Farm, we also start “forcing” them inside. Forcing bulbs is a way of encouraging plants to start growing early and even blossom indoors while those outside sleep warmly underground.
I prefer to force my bulbs by resting them on top of rocks in bowls, vases, and jars. I add enough water to help the roots grow, but not so much water that they drown. I begin with a container and fill it about halfway with small stones or rocks. I set the bulbs on top of those with about 2-3 inches in between (depends on size of foliage of plant). Clean water is then poured over the rocks until it just touches the base of each bulb.
There are some important tips to keep in mind for forcing bulbs:
1. Don’t forget to water. Bulbs resting on rocks will not have soil to retain moisture. Roots need to be able to soak up their nutrition regularly.
2. Water needs to be clean. Sometimes, aging bulbs will start to mildew if soaked with water too long or the papery covering may fall off and begin to rot in the water. Not only will it smell bad, but mold or mildew may also affect the other plants as well.
3. Stones/rocks should be rinsed clean before using.
4. Any planter you use should be cleaned with warm soapy water and rinsed well.
5. Check the bulbs before starting the process. If any look dried or wrinkled, most likely they will not sprout and may mildew. You want plump bulbs that look healthy and may even have a green shoot starting to peek through at the top.
6. Light is necessary for ensuring they grow and blossom. My kitchen can be rather shady, but I still have paperwhites and hyacinth that bloom nicely in there.
7. Experiment with bulbs. Take a couple out of the sets you purchase for outdoors and try them inside. With enough TLC, you may be surprised at how many you can get to grow.
8. For autumn/winter blooming, it is best to choose bulbs that would normally blossom in the spring. I have tried jonquils, hyacinth, crocus, amaryllis, and paperwhites in my home, and they are just gorgeous. This year, I’m trying some tulips as well.
Needless to say, this gardening activity can be done successfully by almost anyone! I’ve observed preschoolers quietly marveling at their blooms growing from terra cotta pots, and grown women proudly displaying their sprouting bulbs in mason jars. It truly is a thing of beauty to have fresh flowers gracing your home on the coldest and darkest of days.