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October 21, 2012

Enjoying flowers year-round

Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean you have to let cabin fever bring you down. While there may no longer be flowers blooming outdoors, October is a great time to begin preparing your favorite spring bulbs for winter flowering indoors. Imagine pots of colorful, fragrant spring flowers (tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses) on your windowsill in February.

Given the proper treatment, spring bulbs can be “forced,” or induced into blooming indoors, well ahead of their natural schedule and completely outside of their natural environment. Commercial growers in North America force millions of bulbs annually. They will often order their bulbs from suppliers in the United States and in Holland a full year before offering bulb pots to customers in stores. And, since some bulbs bloom more quickly than others, they will often combine several types of bulbs in one container, which allows for a prolonged and changing show of color.

Cornell University is home to the Flower Bulb Research Program, which has been quintessential in developing techniques for forcing flower bulbs into readiness just in time for the holidays and other market opportunities. Research for the program is substantially supported by the Dutch flower bulb export industry, as well as U.S. companies and foundations.

Home gardeners can easily force spring-blooming bulbs, too. Start by selecting quality bulbs and potting them in clean, sterile pots. Use high-quality potting mix or prepare a potting soil that includes garden loam, peat moss and sand. You may opt to add perlite or vermiculite, and maybe bone meal as well. The objective is to find a balance between good drainage and sufficient moisture retention. Bulbs store their own food, so fertilization and feeding are non-issues.

Handle bulbs carefully at all times. Plant them so that they are close together, but not overcrowded. When planting tulips, keep in mind that the largest leaf will always emerge and grow on the flat side of the bulb, so placing the flat side toward the outer edge of the pot will allow the leaf to attractively drape itself over the side of the pot. Don’t twist bulbs into the soil or bury them completely. Leave the ‘noses’ of the bulbs exposed. Once the bulbs are planted, saturate the soil immediately and, thereafter, do not allow the soil to become dry or to freeze.

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