Question: Last year I purchased pots of tulips and daffodils ready to bloom in January and February. Could I plant some bulbs in pots now and get them to bloom in January?
Answer: Yes, forcing bulbs to bloom early in pots is not a complicated process. It just takes a 12-week cooling process at 45 to 50 degrees after they are planted. That is the normal temperature of a refrigerator. So, if you have an extra refrigerator that you might use for cooling summer drinks, you are in business. Bulbs planted in mid-October would normally bloom mid to late January. Bulbs planted in late October would bloom in February.
Bulbs can be planted in any container as long as it has bottom drainage. Small bulbs like miniature daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths are often planted in 4-inch pots. Six-inch or larger pots are used for most others.
Bulbs are spaced closer together in containers to give a better display. Typically they are spaced so they are almost touching. Bulbs are not planted as deep in containers to give more room for roots to develop. Fill pots almost full with potting soil. Then push the bulbs slightly into the soil to seat them and cover with enough soil so the tips are just barely covered. In most cases, you can fill the pots completely full to the top. When watered, the soil will settle just enough to leave a ½ inch space at the top.
After draining, place pots in the refrigerator. They will stay moist for several weeks but check regularly, and water when the soil begins to dry on top. Put a reminder on your calendar at about 10 to 11 weeks so you can begin checking them. There are two signs that indicate they are ready to come out for bloom. The tips of the bulbs will begin to show growth on top. White roots will begin to show in the bottom drain holes. Bulbs will bloom about two weeks after placing in normal room temperatures.
Just about any fall-planted bulb can be forced into bloom. However, the taller tulips may need support. The triumph tulip varieties are a good size for forcing.
Dig and store summer bulbs
Now is the right time to dig and store summer blooming bulbs. Dig after the frost has put the tops to sleep but before colder temperatures have frozen the bulbs in the ground. Lily bulbs are hardy and do not need to be dug and stored.
Dig carefully so you do not cut the bulbs with your shovel. I sometimes prefer using a spading fork. Brush all the soil off the bulbs. If you wash the bulbs, make sure they are dried in a warm location before storage. I usually do not wash my bulbs. Getting them wet can make them more susceptible to rot.
Store bulbs in a cool, dry location. The best storage temperature is 35 to 50 degrees. Our dry atmosphere sometimes causes bulbs to dry excessively and shrivel up. Two of the best materials for storing bulbs are vermiculite and perlite. Make sure they are completely dry before covering bulbs with them.