I had a book – Paradise Contained – with pictures of the most glorious bulbs grown in pots. The photographs would seem a little dated now; color preferences have changed and we’re a bit more sophisticated. There are a few things about starting your own bulbs indoors that make the time spent extremely worthwhile. Although there is no cost benefit, you can enjoy your flowers without the chemicals used in greenhouse production. The best reason, however, is that the timing is better. By April, when all of the Easter bulbs are for sale, I want to see them in a natural outdoor setting, daffodils blooming in drifts and tulips pushing through the wet spring earth. February and March are the months when I want potted bulbs brightening my windowsills, close enough for me to inspect their daily burgeoning growth. Also, if you really indulge yourself by ordering from the many excellent catalog companies, the varieties available far surpass the meager daffodil and hyacinth offerings at the supermarket. Where else will you find fritillarias if you don’t grow them yourself?
There’s nothing as singularly beautiful as bulbs blooming indoors during the winter months. With some planning, potting up, and minimal attention to cooling, we can enjoy Spring indoors while the snow and ice wreak their havoc outside. Stagger bringing the potted bulbs out from cold storage and you’ll have continuous blooms for 3 to 4 months. Of course, all you have to do is leave the house in March and early April and every store, nursery and pop-up roadside stand offers flowering bulbs for sale, with a multitude coming to a crescendo the week before Easter. If you insist on keeping life simple and purchase your bulbs already started, choose the ones with the tips just emerging above the soil. Then you won’t miss the joy of watching them grow and you will miss the disappointment when your overblown tulips only last a day in your warm kitchen.
For what I enjoy most of all is the weeks of watching the leaves and flower heads emerge. Hyacinths, both the large-flowered and the Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), are particularly beautiful. Hyacinths take forever to bloom but the leaf shape and the buds stay in a holding pattern for weeks, greatly increasing the anticipation and, just when you have given up hope, the prettiest blue flowers emerge and gracefully bend between their elongated leaves.
Don’t discard your hardy bulbs after blooming. Keep them watered and, when the ground thaws outside, they can be transplanted into your garden beds. They may not bloom the following year, but with patience you can enjoy them for many years. The exceptions to this rule are Tulips and Hyacinths; they are once and done.
Anemone Chill 8-10 weeks
Chionodoxa Chill 10-12 weeks
Crocus Chill 10-12 weeks 1″ deep
Daffodil Chill 12-15 weeks 1″ deep
Fritillaria Chill 12-15 weeks 1″ deep
Hyacinth Chill 12-15 weeks 1/2″ deep/water
Muscari Chill 8-10 weeks 1″ deep
Puschkinia Chill 10-12 weeks 1″ deep
Scilla Chill 10-12 weeks 1″ deep
Snowdrops Chill 10-12 weeks 1″ deep
Tulip Chill 14-16 weeks 1/2″ above soil line
Winter Aconites Chill 8-10 weeks 1/2″ deep
- Potting Up
- Here’s what you will need to plant your bulbs:
- Soil (1 part soil, 1 part peat, 1 part perlite or sand)
- Pots, pottery, vases
- Plant labels
- Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons playing in the background
- Pot up mid-October to mid December, accounting for chill times.
- Fill the pot or container with soil to a level that will allow for the height of the bulb, the depth of planting and another 1″ for watering and adding moss later.
- Place the bulbs close but not touching and cover with soil. Do NOT press down on the soil or the bulb; just let the watering settle everything in.
- Label with the plant name and the date to bring the pots indoors.
- Place in a dark spot. Chill at 35-48F, keeping the pots watered as needed.
- When the bulbs start showing shoots, bring indoors and place in a cool room with indirect sunlight.
- As the flowers start to appear, move to bright light. Rotate the pots daily to keep stems upright.
- Adding moss around the base of the stems really sets the bulbs off beautifully.
- If the stems become elongated and the flowers are toppling over, tie the leaves and stems with a ribbon or some raffia to a stick or bamboo cane.
Hyacinth bulbs can cause skin irritation, so use gloves when handling.
There are ways to chill the bulbs, such as burying them in the ground and covering with leaves and straw. The chance of damage from mice, deer, and voles is great and requires protecting the pots with wire mesh. Also, if the bulbs freeze they will not bloom. If you live in an area where the entire winter months remain between 35-48F, you are very lucky indeed for you can just store them in a shed or garage. My solution is to chill them in the refrigerator (no apples allowed because of ethylene gas!).