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Fall Garden Tips: How to Force Spring Bulbs


As the dreary winter weather creeps up on us, we long for the vibrant colors and perfume of springtime flowers. But wise gardeners know there’s no need to resign yourself to a flower-free season. The bright hues of daffodils and fragrance of flowering hyacinth can fill your home during the darkest winter days. All that’s needed is a little planning in the fall – and now’s as good a time as ever to start!

For newbies, “forcing” spring bulbs involves an 8-15 week chilling period which fools Mother Nature into sprouting blossoms earlier than usual. Though some nurseries sell pre-chilled bulbs during the winter, your best bet is to visit your local garden center now and buy ordinary bulbs. Keep your eye out for big bulbs with no soft spots – they should have a healthy appearance to them! Which bulbs are ideal for forcing? We recommend:

  • Hyacinth. Chilling time: 12-15 weeks.
  • Crocus. Chilling time: 8-15 weeks.
  • Tulips. Chilling time: 10-16 weeks.
  • Grape hyacinth. Chilling time: 8-15 weeks.
  • Iris reticulata. Chilling time: 13-15 weeks.
  • Daffodils: Chilling time: 12-15 weeks.

Got your bulbs? Next youíll need a pot – any type with a drainage hole will do. Make sure it’s at least twice as deep as the bulbs.

  1. Fill the pot halfway with a soilless potting mix. Plant your bulbs in the pot, squeezing in as many as possible without letting them touch. Put plants with the same chilling time together in the same pot, for example grape hyacinth and crocus, or daffodils and hyacinth. Cover the bulbs with potting mix, allowing only their tips to show through the top. Water thoroughly.
  2. Store the pot in a cool space: between 35-45 F. The ideal chilling location would be an unheated attic, basement or garage. Cover pot loosely with a paper bag, and label it.
  3. Visit your bulbs every two weeks or so, and check to make sure they’re retaining moisture but not wet.
  4. Sprouts will start to poke out of the soil after about 8-16 weeks, depending on the type of bulb. Once those green tips start to appear, move the pot to a sunny, warm location. Most bulbs take 2-3 more weeks to bloom. Once flowers blossom, move the plants away from direct sunlight to keep them around longer!
  5. Voilà! Youíve got a house full of gorgeous springtime flowers to hold you through those last weeks of winter.
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