It’s truly amazing how many beautiful things you can grow during the cold winter months. Like anything else, there’s more than one way to force blooms. Our approach to growing things is pretty lax in general and that largely informed how I tackled winter forcing. We had bulb crates, beautiful pots, and potting soil on hand so that’s what I used. If you want hydroponic grow trays and bulb vases by all means, go for it. I personally like potting soil because we can dump it on our garden beds once the plants are spent but you do you.
And now the recap:
These don’t need to be chilled so they’re by far the easiest option (and fairly inexpensive). I opted for yellow ‘ Grand Soleil d’Or’ instead of the classic white and I’m so glad I did because who doesn’t want little tiny sunshines staring at them when it’s -10 outside like it was a few weeks ago. ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is incredibly fragrant with 3-5 blooms per stem and flowers open over time so if you plant four or five together in a pot you’ll be able to ogle them for weeks.
The dark horse of ‘22/’23, I can’t get over how beautiful these flowers are – and so easy to grow. We only trialed 5 varieties this winter but will absolutely be adding more to the mix for next season. They are a bit pricey compared to other bulbs, but with proper care they’ll bloom year after year so definitely worth it.If
Bulbs can be either South American or Dutch, our experience being the SA varieties arrive earlier and bloom faster. We pot ours in whatever potting soil we have on hand and immediately put them somewhere warm & bright to sprout and grow on, watering weekly as needed. Once buds are setting we move them out of direct sunlight to enjoy the blooms. Top size bulbs like the ones we grow often throw multiple stems that each have 3 or more flowers so the show will last for a number of weeks.
‘Amadeus’: Massive white double flowers with blush edges. Stems were on the shorter side which was great given how large the blooms were – I’m anti-staking so I think they’d have toppled over if they were any taller. Smash.
‘Revelation’: Beautiful single flowers with oxblood & maroon etching – and it reblooms!
‘Double King’: These were fine. If you’re looking for a classic red amaryllis it works (and reblooms) but I LOVE red and it didn’t really do anything for me. I had them in white pots so maybe it was the contrast? I don’t know. Pass.
‘Rosalie’: To die for. Bulbs produce multiple stems at a time, each with at least 4 buds, and flowers are the most gorgeous pinky-rose hue. Plant three tight together in a special bowl or planter for a beautiful display that lasts weeks.
‘Rilona’: TBD (but my hopes are high).
TULIPS & DAFFODILS
I’m no tulip expert, but I am an expert at trying to get the most bang for my buck with the least amount of effort. You could spend days or weeks or months laboring over creating the perfect growing conditions and getting the optimal chilling period, or you can just pot up your bulbs and see what happens. Don’t get me wrong, bulbs aren’t cheap but neither is time so I’m happy to report that with a baseline understanding of what these guys need and a little common sense you can easily be flush with flowers in winter.
Both tulips & daffodils require a cold period in order to bloom. This varies by type and variety – a basic Google search can get you the specifics – but plan on at least 10 weeks. We trialed two methods – crates & pots – crates being for bunches and pots for bulb gardens. In October, all bulbs were planted into whatever potting mix we had on hand, watered, and put into our walk-in with a space heater set to 40 degrees, checking them a handful of times between October and December to make sure they were rooting and that there wasn’t any mold.
By late December I got impatient and pulled the first round of crates & pots. Crates went under lights in a walk-in basement closet, pots went in the windowsill. At this point I realized I probably should have been better about watering them once the space heater kicked on because the potting mix was pretty dry, but only the strong survive here.
‘Mondial’ bloomed first – mid January – and was pretty uniform in bloom time. Stems were fairly short since they were only chilled about 10 weeks but who cares. I only like branches in tall vases anyway.
‘Columbus’ bloomed next and did really well in the bulb gardens with flowers opening over the course of a couple weeks. The crates were a bust but it could’ve been a number of things (lack of water, disease, growing too warm, etc.) so we’ll see what happens next year.
‘Foxy Foxtrot’ was pulled in mid January and bloomed just in time for Valentine’s Day (also very uniform). These are already shorties in general so no noticeable difference in stem length if that matters to you.
‘Menton’ was pulled in mid January and is just coming on. Very excited.
‘Dick Wilden’: Fairly uniform bloom time, but took much longer to flower than anticipated.
‘Petit Four’: Just coming on and I found an extra bag in the hoophouse so you better believe I’m potting more.
‘Minnow’: Little cutie tazettas that I LOVE but they’re blooming really sporadically so we’ll see.
We’ve still got a few varieties to go but I think overall it’s been a success. If you’re making a significant investment in bulbs or trying to grow at scale then you can be a little more scientific about it but honestly, it’s not rocket science. Trial & error are your friend and you’ll learn what works for you based on your specific growing scenario and how you’re wired.
Takeaways for next year:
- Get bulbs in the cooler immediately, regardless of when they’re being potted/planted to capitalize on chilling time.
- Be sure to water deeply once humidity drops in storage.
- Figure out a better growing setup to accommodate more crates/ensure it doesn’t get too warm.
- Take better notes (here’s hoping)
AND SAVING THE WORST FOR LAST – HYACINTHS
These were an absolute failure but it’s fine because it’ll be better next year. I impulse bought precooled bulbs on sale, potted a bunch up, and grew them way too warm (or maybe they weren’t actually precooled) so they flowered basically at soil level. Either way it was a total bust, but the shop smelled divine and now I know to let them hang in the cooler for a few weeks regardless.
That’s it (so far). Dragging crates & pots around can be annoying and messy but it’s so so satisfying to have beautiful flowers you wouldn’t otherwise see for months. Our last few crates are getting pulled in the coming weeks and will carry us through until the tunnel tulips start blooming in April so even with the losses, I’d say it’s a win. If you’re planning on growing for production my advice is to plant & pull more than you think you’ll need since you’ll something will inevitably go wrong (and that’s fine). For everyone else, just grab your favorite pots & plant as many as you can stand. Your future self will thank you.
If you have any experience with bulb forcing let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear which varieties you love/hate and which methods have worked best for you.