Bulbs demand careful attention this time of the year

Spring bulbs that are still sitting on the shelf will not be viable in spring. If left on the shelf they will dry out or rot. Planting them outside now will most likely be a waste of energy with the exception of tulips.

Spring bulbs that are still sitting on the shelf will not be viable in spring.

If left on the shelf they will dry out or rot. Planting them outside now will most likely be a waste of energy with the exception of tulips.

These bulbs still tend to bloom even when they are planted late as long as they have had time to put down some roots. Placing a thick layer of mulch on top of the newly planted bulbs will keep the ground warmer and less likely to freeze, thus enabling the formation of roots.

Bulbs can also be forced into bloom, meaning that they will bloom inside in pots in the middle of winter. This can be accomplished by imitating nature — providing a cool, dark period and slowly increasing the temperature and sunlight to encourage the bulb to bloom.

Before starting to force bulbs make sure that all the cultural conditions can be met.

As with all bulbs, the larger the bulb the bigger the bloom. With this in mind, choose large firm bulbs without cuts or mould.

Bulbs that are being forced must be kept in a cool, dark area that is just above freezing for at least six weeks. It can take longer depending on the type and variety of bulb. This requirement can be met in an old fridge, cold room or cool area of the garage.

Make sure that the bulbs are not in the same area as ripening fruit as the gasses they produce inhibit the bulbs’ blooms.

Always use clean containers with good drainage to pot up any plant. But it is even more important when forcing bulbs as they will be sitting in a cool damp environment — a starting place for most moulds.

For the same reason make sure the potting soil is sterilized.

Once the materials are gathered, place a layer of moist soil on the bottom of a pot. Place as many bulbs of the same variety as possible on the bottom of the pot, pointy side up. Add enough soil to cover the bulbs.

For a fuller pot add a second layer of bulbs by wedging them in between the first layer of bulbs. When all the bulbs are added, fill the pot with soil. Finish by placing the container in a paper bag or box to ensure that the bulbs will always be in the dark. When the containers are all planted, move them into a cool area.

Check on the bulbs every few weeks to see if they need water, or are starting to grow.

Once the bulbs have a one- inch (two- cm) sprout they should be removed from the cold and brought gradually into the warmth and bright light.

Once the bulbs flower, place the plants in a cooler area to prolong the blooming period.

Staggering the time when the bulbs are removed from the cold will ensure blooms most of the season.

Not all bulbs are forced in soil. Hynthins and paper white narcissus can be brought to bloom in a forcing jar with water.

Forcing jars are specially designed to hold the bulbs out of the water but allow the roots to grow into the water and absorb nutrients.

Once the bulbs are in the jars the same rules apply as to the potted bulbs.

It is possible to purchase pre-chilled hynthins bulbs. These bulbs are then either potted and or placed in a jar and cared for until they bloom.

Staggering the time when the bulbs are removed from the cold will ensure blooms most of the season.

Forced bulbs are wonderful additions to the home of office in the winter months. They are a reminder that spring will be here.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at your_garden@hotmail.com

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