Spring’s first color often comes from down under: the flowering bulb. While home gardeners wait for Mother Nature, they can persuade a springtime bulb into flowering indoors with relative ease. No Jedi mind tricks required!
Some bulb genera are easily convinced to bloom; these include crocus and daffodils. Forcing these beautiful plants can bring bright color, lasting substance and texture, and sometimes fragrance to any indoor space. Follow these simple tips to create a simple yet compelling display.
Timing is Everything
For some bulb types, the first step is to convince the bulbs that they’ve been through a winter. This can be achieved in the refrigerator or similar cold, dry place (but not freezing).
Some bulbs require only a few weeks of chilling in order to be sufficiently tricked. Other bulb genera may require up to 15 weeks of chill time. For instant gratification, steer your customers toward amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus – they don’t generally need to be pre-cooled at all. Amaryllis usually takes 6-8 weeks to bloom; paperwhites can be expected to bloom in just 3-6 weeks.
Simple Recipe for Success
With both amaryllis and paperwhites, these bulbs only need to be planted up to three-quarters of the way up the bulbs with a lightweight, well-draining potting mix.
For bulbs that do require chilling, direct your customers to place their bulbs flat side down (pointy side up) halfway in a container, so there’s lightweight potting mix both above and below the bulb. Generally, you don’t need to plant the bulb more than ½ to 1” below the top of the soil. The planting vessel doesn’t need to be fancy; a shallow bowl, pot or deep saucer will do. It should be large enough to cover the size of the bulb(s) with enough space beneath for developing roots. The bottom third of the container should be filled with potting soil or small stone – crushed or pebble-type – and lightly tamped to compact.
Once the bulbs are planted, they should be thoroughly watered in, and then allowed to drain before they’re put into the area to be chilled. The crisper drawers in a homeowner’s fridge are perfect for this task! During this chilling phase, the bulbs will develop roots to support the plant and flowers. Just warn your customers not to place them near ethylene-producing produce like apples, as this could cause the flower buds within the bulb to abort.
Once the bulbs are adequately chilled, they’re ready to be awakened from their “winter” slumber. This is the time to move the pots into a decorative cache pot, if desired, making sure that they won’t be sitting in water. Containers often do well on a window ledge or table with bright, indirect sunlight. Homeowners will want to keep an eye on temperature and moisture levels. While the bulbs are growing, advise your customers to lightly mist or water until damp, being careful not to overwater. The ideal temperature range is between 60-70° F. If the home is very warm or the location heats up too much from the sun, the moisture in the container could evaporate and the bulbs may dry out.
Crocus and daffodils, with good care, can be planted outside in spring, after the last frost, for the homeowner to enjoy in future years.
Build Your Own Demonstrator
If your garden center has some paperwhites on order or some boxed amaryllis kits, take one out to show and sell. By grouping a variety of small stone options, potting soils and unique vessel types, you may convince your customer to plant a wave of color in the weeks leading up into spring. It’s a fun project for young Jedi children, too. May the force be with you!
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