A Gardener’s Diary: Forcing tulip bulbs

Winter is here at last, but Jocelyne Sewell finds there are still things to be done to get ready for next year

As always I got caught by the hard frost of last week. I was hoping to have another week or so but I should have known better. I managed to put away all the shredding of plants for composting. All the leaves were shredded and spread over the whole garden. All the potted plants made it to the greenhouse and some of them were covered by some of the leaves.

I had some more tulips to plant but with the ground frozen, I planted them in pots. I put them in garbage cans in the shed covered with reemay cloth and the lid on. With -9C in the shed the first night, with all the wrapping, the soil didn’t freeze hard. I will put newspaper on them and double the cardboard boxes for the other ones, hoping for the best. Last year it worked OK but the winter was mild.

For you that have some bulbs that still need planting, I got some advice from the Internet: You can chill the bulbs the old-fashioned way by potting them up and placing the pots in cold storage (40 to 45 F /5C to 8C) . An easier method, especially if space is limited, is to place the bulbs themselves in the fridge for the big chill in a brown paper or mesh bag, then tuck the bag into the refrigerator vegetable crisper for seven or eight weeks and then plant them in pots. This chilling method will work if you don’t keep fruit in the fridge. Fruit produces ethylene gas as it ripens and that will kill the flower inside the bulb. After the cold period, pot the bulbs as suggested in the old-fashioned way, then place the pots in a 50-55 F /10C to 14C dark area for a month. Increase the light and temperature levels. Continue watering and wait for the blooms to appear. Forcing now means the blooms should break in late February or early March.

Old-fashioned forcing: Partially fill containers with potting soil. Arrange tulip bulbs on top of the soil so the flat side of the bulb is facing toward the sides of the pot. Tops should be even or slightly below the edge of the container. Rule of thumb: four to five bulbs for five-inch pots; six to seven bulbs for six-inch pots, eight to 10 bulbs for eight-inch pots — you get the idea.

Cover bulbs with potting soil, allowing the tops to poke out above the soil. Label the containers with the variety name and planting date, then water the containers.

Place the pots in cold storage in total darkness for 12 to 16 weeks, watering regularly. You can cover the pots with plastic bags if you like; just remember to punch a few holes in the bags. If you’re using the garage, put a cardboard box over top of the pots to keep out light. Remove the pots from cold storage when yellow shoots appear. Place the tulips in a low-light location where the temperature is 50 to 60 F/ 10 to 15C. Shoots will turn green in about a week, then you can move the bulbs into a lighted space where temperatures are warmer. Don’t forget to water the bulbs and turn the pots regularly for straight growth. Flowering should begin in three to four weeks after the bulbs come in from the cold.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast in the North Okanagan and member of Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club. Her column appears every other Wednesday.


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