Plant bulbs now for gorgeous blooms in winter.
If you want colour, scent and beauty in the depths of winter then now is the time to start thinking about it.
Forcing bulbs for indoors is easy and there are perhaps more flowers suited to this treatment than you might think.
The snowy white purity of paperwhite narcissi makes them particularly suited to the Christmas season. I just need to catch a whiff of their decadent scent and I want to put on my party frock and step out for some elegant festive fun.
They do grow very tall though and continue to gain height while in flower. There are a few ways to deal with this, either cut them and pop them in a vase or, plant them en masse in bowls stuffed with twiggy growth to support them, or lastly tie a festive ribbon around them to stop the leaves drooping.
These big blowsy blooms are the floral rear guard, the emergent bulbs you whip out in January when the Christmas decorations are down, the party is over and you’re at your lowest ebb. They are as gloriously scented as the paperwhites, and if you take care of them they will flower just long enough for you to notice that the days are lengthening and spring is on its way.
It’s absolutely essential to buy prepared hyacinth bulbs rather than bulbs for the garden.
Not everyone will have considered forcing anemone but these robust, open-faced flowers are a real delight forced in pots for the home. Those who prefer the tasteful simplicity of the single colours might like to plant small numbers in individual pots, arranged in groups.
Or there are lots of coloured mixes available for those who enjoy a giddy riot of colour. Planting a cheap bag of corms in a kitsch old cake tin is a cheery way to go.
Choosing pots, vases and containers
Forced bulbs are generally very accommodating and will grow in almost anything so long as you fulfill their basic requirements (see how to grow, below), you don’t even need drainage holes, though a few is a good idea so long as there’s no risk of ruining your favourite bowl.
The key thing to remember is to have fun doing exactly as you please whether your style is understated and tasteful, or quirky and creative.
The most creative ideas are often the product of not taking things too seriously.
When to plant
Paperwhite narcissi – good quality bulbs will generally flower between 6–10 weeks from planting. Plant in October – early Nov at a push.
Hyacinths – 10–14 weeks from planting. Best in the New Year. Great for giving as little Christmas gifts to people.
Anemone – 10-12 weeks from planting. The corms (bulbs) are like little wrinkled walnuts, they should be hard and will need soaked for an hour or two before planting.
How to Grow
It is important to buy prepared bulbs, that have had a period of cold storage. This is particularly true of hyacinths.
- Before applying compost, line the bottom of the container with a layer of grit.
- Bulbs don’t need high quality compost packed with nutrients. All the goodness they need to flower is contained within the bulb, but good drainage and an open, airy loam are important. You can buy special bulb fibre and if your container doesn’t have drainage holes then this is probably your best option. If your pot has drainage holes then mix a soil based compost with some grit (2 parts soil to 1 part grit) will do the job just fine.
- Add a layer of compost to the bottom of the pot and water until just moist.
- Sit the bulbs on the compost, they can be planted as close as you like so long as they don’t touch each other or the sides of the container.
- Fill in the gaps with the compost mix.
- Leave a 1 cm gap between the top of the compost and the lip of the container to make watering easier.
- The tips of the bulbs should be just pointing through.
Light, or dark
Paperwhite narcissi – narcissi do need a period of cold after planting but not dark. After planting place them in cool but light spot inside. A north facing window ledge in an unheated room, or porch is ideal. When the buds are formed bring them into their final position.
Hyacinth – hyacinths need to be kept in a cool, dark place until the shoots are 4-6cm high. Then move them into a warm, bright spot.
Anemone – as above for hyacinths.
All will flower for longer if they are kept out of direct heat in a room that isn’t too warm.
Where to keep plants cool
A cool cupboard, garage or shed is fine.
Lastly, growing bulbs in vases.
Growing hyacinths, paperwhites and anemone in bulb vases, or jars is effective and has simple contemporary look. The bulb should be slightly smaller then the diameter of the vase and there should be enough room below the bulb for roots to grow. Fill the vase or jar with water up to a level where the bottom of the bulb will sit. Place the bulb on top and then care for the plant as you would a potted specimen of paperwhite, hyacinth, or anemone.
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