How to grow flowering bulbs indoors

Tips and instructions on how to grow flowering bulbs in an indoor garden.

When it is the middle of winter and spring seems an age away, you might long to see something growing and blooming. When it is too early to garden outdoors, you can grow flowers from bulbs months before they would bloom outside.

Jonquils, narcissus, hyacinths, tulips, snowdrops, crocus, and scilla are all bulbs that will bloom indoors with the proper treatment. Purchase the bulbs in the fall just as you would for planting outdoors. Make sure that the bulbs are full and plump, not shriveled or soft. Shriveling is a sign that the bulb does not have enough food stored to grow well and to bloom. Also make sure that the bulbs are not already sprouting, as these bulbs will not last long enough to bloom.

Plant the bulbs in clay or plastic pots. Use a mixture of equal parts of potting soil, sand or vermiculite, and peat moss. The mixture should drain well, as soggy soil will rot the bulbs. Put a square of window screening or a piece of broken clay pot over the hole in the bottom of the pot, so that the soil does not leak out of the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot about halfway or a little more than halfway with soil. Plant the bulbs close together, but not so close that they touch. Be sure to plant the bulbs so that the nose, or pointed side of the bulb, is pointing upwards. Fill the pot the rest of the way with soil so that the top of each bulb is even with the level of the soil. Water well. Be sure to label the pots, so you know which plants are in each pot.

You must now chill the bulbs for a minimum of 12 weeks. Larger bulbs, such as tulips, should be chilled for 16 weeks. The bulbs must be kept at 35 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not put the pots in the refrigerator you use for your food, as some fruits will interact with the bulbs and will cause the bulbs to fail to grow. Use a basement, a cold frame, a spare refrigerator, or any other place that will keep the bulbs cold. If your space is limited and you do not have room for a lot of pots in your chilling area, you may chill the bulbs before you pot them. However, this is not the ideal way to force bulbs, and your results will not be as good. If they are in pots, make sure the soil stays moist without being waterlogged. Keep them in a dark place, putting boxes or black plastic bags over them if necessary. If they are in a cold frame, and you are in a place where the weather gets extremely cold, cover them with a thick layer of mulch. During this time, the bulbs are building a root system.

Check the bulbs weekly to make sure that the soil is still moist and to see if the bulbs have put forth any shoots. You will also notice roots coming out of the bottoms of the pots after a few weeks. When the shoots are 2 to 3 inches high, or after 12 to 16 weeks, you may bring the pots indoors and put them in a cool place with indirect lighting. The bulbs will start to put forth shoots if they have not already. Don't allow the bulbs to dry out. After about a week, move the bulbs to a warm, sunny window. They will start to grow quickly and will bloom in a very short time. Make sure that the temperature stays under 68 degrees in order to have long lasting blooms. Temperatures over 65 degrees will cause some species, such as crocuses, to fail to bloom.

After the bulbs have bloomed, cut off the flower stems. Let the plants continue growing until the leaves die back naturally. You may plant the bulbs outdoors in the fall. It will be a several years before they have stored enough food in order to bloom again, but eventually the bulbs will grace your garden with flowers. Don't try to reuse the bulbs for forcing. Use fresh bulbs if you wish to force blooms the next year.

You may also force some types of bulbs without using soil. Narcissus, crocus, and hyacinths can all be forced to bloom in water. For crocus, place pebbles in a shallow dish. For hyacinths and narcissus, use a short glass vase, filling its base with pebbles. Pour water into the dish or vase until the water just covers the pebbles. Press the bulbs down into the pebbles so that their bases are firmly in contact with the water. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark place for four to eight weeks. Bring the bulbs out to a sunny window and they will bloom. Discard bulbs forced in water after use, as they will not bloom again.

© High Speed Ventures 2011