Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An old gardening trick will give you a spring floral display

Lawn mower and gardening supply commercials are in bloom on television, but it is not spring, yet. There is still time to do something, even if you're like me and forgot to plant your bulbs last fall (I've got to get a garden calendar like Martha).

By forcing spring bulbs, even the forgetful gardener can watch spring unfold.

In a sense, forcing a bulb is like tricking the plant to think that it's time to grow its shoot, leaf and flower. To do so, one must mimic the conditions that the plant would undergo during spring in its natural outdoors environment.

Most spring-blooming bulbs can be forced into bloom. The most gullible varieties, however, are tulips, crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths and narcissus. 

The process of forcing bulbs usually takes 12 to 16 weeks. To get the best showing, buy forced bulbs just before the flower bud opens. 

Also important is to choose wisely. 

Think of the bulb as a piece of fruit in the grocery store; stay away from bulbs that are soft or sprouting. 

Almost any container will do when it comes to planting forced bulbs, although plastic containers are easier to clean and do not dry out as quickly as clay pots. A shallow container of water with pebbles to support the plant is a neat option for paper white narcissus. Also look for vases designed specifically for forced bulbs.  

Since bulbs need moisture and ample drainage, choose a commercial soil designed for forced bulbs (not regular potting soil) or mix an equal blend of peat moss, potting soil, sand and vermiculite or perlite for best results. Chances are the nursery has grouped these supplies together. Don't be afraid to ask for help, as nursery retailers are just as excited about spring as you are.

When it comes to planting bulbs, toss the rules. Spacing considerations do not apply to forced bulbs. Fill half your pot with soil and plant your bulbs (pointed ends up) as close together as you can, but not touching. Narcissi, daffodils and crocus are especially attractive when planted in groups of three, five or more. To create a foliage edge around the pot, plant your tulip bulbs or any other variety with a flat side, with the flat side facing the edge.

You might also add other plants to the pot to create a more natural setting, and for best results, remember to water regularly.

Today’s Muse
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: When it is summer in the light and winter in the shade -- Charles Dickens

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