" It's Our Garden "

By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

The Art Of Forcing Potted Bulbs Indoors

A good potting soil mix for starting bulbs is 1-part peat moss, 1-part sand, 1-part perlite, and 1-part compost, with a good sprinkle of bone meal. Daffodils have long heavy roots, so I use a clay pot 8-inches deep and 8 inches across the top.

A few don'ts' in potting· Don't compact the soil; a thump on the table will settle it, and the roots can penetrate better. Don't twist bulbs into the soil or you may damage the basal plate from which the roots emerge. Don't crowd too many bulbs into one container; roots seeking room may heave the bulbs right up out of the soil. Don't sprinkle newly-planted bulbs saturate them; this will be their last water for many weeks.

After labeling, store the pots in either a cold frame with the glass removed or a trench deep enough so that they're covered at least one foot deep. I used to slog through January snows to the cold frame near the garden Now I get pots out of cold storage from a handy trench dug beside the garage I cover it with a thick layer of pine needles, leaves, straw. As an extra precaution, I lay a piece of window screening over all, weighting it down with a light layer of soil to discourage mice and chipmunks, who like to nibble on tulips and crocuses. I suppose bulbs could be stored in an unheated garage where the temperature did not drop to freezing nor go above 50°.

When about 6-weeks have elapsed, remove the covering in trench or cold frame to see if the smaller bulbs are rooted. If either a gentle tug or a yellow sprout give evidence, they can be brought indoors. I begin to remove the large bulbs early in January, leaving them in the cellar until the soil thaws. Next they are moved upstairs to dim light for a day, then placed near a window, and in another day or two put in direct sunlight. I check every couple of days to make sure the soil is moist, but not soggy. I turn the pot frequently so growth is symmetrical.

In a couple of weeks the buds show color. I mist them with a sprayer to substitute for the moist atmosphere of springtime. If you can't keep your living area on the cool side, move the plants to the cellar at night to prolong flower freshness. Hyacinth bloom should be out of the neck of the bulb before you put it into strong light. Otherwise it tends to blossom down in the crevice at the base of the leaves instead of unfolding at the top of a nice sturdy stalk. Slip a cone made of a twist of heavy paper over the bloom and you can coax it upward. When you see the florets ready to unfold, remove the cone.

Note: Dig up a few of those grape hyacinths from your garden border for forcing, too. They may not do as well as fresh ones, but there's little to lose and they may surprise you. I first learned these miniature blue thimbles had a lovely fragrance when I grew them indoors. Scillas and wood hyacinths force well too. '

Bulbs you want to save for planting outdoors will need water, sunlight and a light feeding with fish and seaweed emulsion after their flowers have faded. As the weather warms, they can be knocked from pots and set outside, or left to ripen in the pot, dried off, then planted in the fall.

If you're a gardener like I am, one for whom spring never comes early enough, try arranging your own private preview of the season by potting a few bulbs for forcing.

Copyright o 1995 Growing Flower's