Dorothy Collins column: Fall planting: May the 'force' be with you

Last week we talked about paperwhite narcissus bulbs and how you could get them ready for blooming a bit later without extra work finding cool places for the bulb.

Last week we talked about paperwhite narcissus bulbs and how you could get them ready for blooming a bit later without extra work finding cool places for the bulb.

Now comes some how-tos about forcing bulbs requiring that cool period.

To explain, if you would have tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and the smaller bulbs such as crocus in pots in midwinter, you have to "force" them in the fall. Forcing means encouraging them to bloom outside of their normal period, which would be spring.

First, of course, you need the bulbs. Most garden stores have these in stock. Find the biggest ones you can. You can use tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and the little bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinths and others.

You will need some good-sized pots -- 6 to 8 inches across -- and some potting soil. Use about six of the big bulbs to a 6-inch pot.


Set the bulbs close to one another in the pot and fill in with soil. Now water in well, letting the excess water flow out through the drainage holes. That's about all there is to it for the first step. No fertilizer is needed, either now or when the bulbs are in growth.

Your next step is more difficult.

You need to find cool spots to put the pots. Most basements are too warm unless you can find a spot close to the outside wall.

What are your other options? Some place the pots in the cold frame, near the home so they don't have to negotiate snowdrifts to get to them in midwinter. Another place that may work is in window wells, protected by plastic covers. They should not freeze.

If you have just a few, you may want to use the crisper in your refrigerator. Or perhaps you have a second fridge in your basement, which you use to store veggies. You can have the optimum temps in such spots.

After 14 to 16 weeks, check them out. If there are roots growing out the drainage hole, they should be ready for the next step. Growth is not necessary at the top.

Take them out of the refrigerator or whatever cool spot you have them in, and move them to a cool spot with light. After a week, the tops should have moved up. Gradually move the pots to more light until they start to bud and finally bloom.

Tulips take the longest to bloom, following daffodils. Dutch hyacinths seem to take the least time, and since these are the most fragrant, they are the ones I like to force. There is one drawback with hyacinths, and that is that the flowers tend to bloom down at the base of the leaves unless you try to encourage them to move upwards.


Do this by placing a piece of cardboard around the leaves temporarily; the light will draw the flower stalk upward, after which you can remove the card.

Try to keep your flowers in as cool a place as possible and they will last longer.

After bloom has ceased, let the foliage keep on growing if you are going to plant them outdoors. If so, transplant them out in May. In succeeding years, they may bloom again.

However, forcing takes a lot out of bulb plants and they may not recover to re-flower. It's worth a try, though. I have had hyacinths bloom again, especially the pink ones (I don't know what variety).

Collins is The Forum's garden columnist. Write to her by mail at

The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo ND 58107, or direct e-mail to her at

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