Pot them up, give them a chill and enjoy spring-flowering bulbs indoors or outside on a patio, deck or porch. This is a great way to enjoy any bulbs that didn't make it into the ground this season or take advantage of late-season discounts on bulbs.
Larger flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and alliums put on quite a display in your home or in a window box or container. Add some smaller bulbs like crocus, squills and grape hyacinths to the mix for added beauty.
All you need is a container with drainage holes, potting mix and a few bulbs. Shorter varieties work well, or give taller varieties a bit of support with twigs or decorative stakes when displaying indoors.
Cover the bottom of the container with soil. Set several bulbs, pointed side up, on top of the potting mix. Set the tallest bulbs in the center surrounded by shorter varieties when creating a mixed garden. Place tulips with the flat side of the bulb facing out for a better display. Cover the bulbs and fill the container with potting mix.
Enjoy weeks of colorful flowers by selecting a variety of bulbs that bloom from early through late spring. Layer the bulbs to maximize your planting space. Place larger bulbs on top of the soil layer at the bottom of the container. The tallest of these will go in the center skirted by shorter varieties to maximize the display.
Cover this first layer of bulbs with potting mix, leaving just the tip of the bulbs exposed. Add smaller bulbs like squills, crocus and grape hyacinth bulbs to the next level. Plant them close together between the tips of the larger bulbs. Cover this layer with soil, leaving enough space for watering.
Water the freshly planted container thoroughly, then move it to a cool location, about 35 to 45 degrees for at least 12 to 15 weeks. This cold period is needed to initiate flowering in these bulbs.
A spare refrigerator or in colder regions, an unheated garage works well. Or if the ground hasn't frozen, sink the pot into a vacant space in the garden. This works for those gardening in areas where winter temperatures are cold enough to provide the needed chill.
Mulch the soil once the ground starts to freeze with evergreen boughs. This will make it easier to remove the pot in early spring.
Eliminate this step by purchasing pre-chilled bulbs. These have received the needed cold treatment and are ready to pot up and grow indoors or outdoors in warmer regions.
Check stored bulbs regularly for early sprouting and move to a colder location if needed. Water the bulbs in storage whenever the soil is thawed and dry.
Once the cold treatment is complete, you can move the forced bulbs to their final location where you can enjoy the spring flowers. Place the container in a cool location with bright indirect light indoors.
Water thoroughly as needed and watch for flowers to appear in about four weeks. Remove one pot a week from cold storage to extend your enjoyment.
Monitor spring growing conditions before moving forced bulbs into outdoor planters. Once the weather is suitable for bulbs to sprout and grow outdoors, it is safe to move forced bulbs into the landscape.
When they are done flowering, you can compost the bulbs or for those suited to your growing conditions add them to the garden. Remove the faded flowers and water the plants like your houseplants or other container gardens.
Fertilize with a dilute solution of flowering plant fertilizer or apply a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer. This helps replenish the nutrients used in flowering.
Move indoor forced bulbs outdoors as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Those in containers outdoors can remain in the pots until the foliage fades or the garden is ready for planting. Or store the bulbs in a cool, dark place for summer and plant in the fall with other hardy bulbs. Then be patient, as it can take two years for these to flower.
Forcing spring flowering bulbs is a great way to add beauty to your indoor décor, patio, balcony or deck. They also make a great gift for gardeners of all experience levels.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including "The Midwest Gardener's Handbook" and "Small Space Gardening." She hosts the Great Courses' "How to Grow Anything" DVD series and the syndicated "Melinda's Garden Moment" program on TV and radio.