Spring Bulbs-It’s Fun to Fool Mother Nature
By Lee Oliphant Master Gardener
There may be a time in the upcoming winter that you yearn
for spring fragrances and color before their time. Getting
spring bulbs to flower indoors in the winter is called
“forcing”. It’s fun to “fool Mother Nature” and potted
spring bulbs make great gifts for the upcoming holidays.
Normally a spring bulb is dormant in the winter. Shoot
growth begins in the spring when temperatures rise.
Flowering follows. In order to force a bloom you must mimic
its natural pattern and expose it to cold (chill). Bulb
varieties differ in their “chill” or dormancy requirements.
A chill temperature is considered to be around 40º but
length of time varies in plant varieties. Bulbs can be
chilled in a bag in a refrigerator before planting or can
be chilled in the pots you wish to grow them in. Place
planted pots in a cool garage or cellar, or dig a trench in
a shady area of your garden and cover with dried leaves,
straw, or spaghnum moss. Dig up when ready to place in
light and “force” the bloom.
Some bulbs are more easily forced to bloom than others.
Both paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis need no “chill
time”. Other spring bulbs need more chill time. The elegant
hyacinth can be forced in “hyacinth vases” using only
water. They need 10–14 weeks of chill time then 2-3 more
weeks to bloom. Small flowers such as the Muscari (grape
hyacinth) and snowdrop can be clustered in pots. They need
13–16 weeks of chill. Siberian squill (Scilla siberica)
need 15 weeks of chill as do some varieties of tulip.
Once bulbs have completed their chill cycle, they are
exposed to low light until their leaves turn green.
Finally, they can be placed in a sunny window where they
“go into action”. If you are thinking of giving potted
bulbs as holiday gifts, get them started now. Enclose a
handwritten card with instructions on how the receiver can
finish the process to enjoy spring blooms in the upcoming