Forcing Bulbs

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Three boxes awaited Beth and I when we got home Thursday from work. The first box was an orchid and accessories for Beth. The second box was plants, and the third box was bulbs. Our evening on Thursday was full, but the weekend was coming.

My first task was to ask Beth to help me get the plants and bulbs sorted out. My Braille labels were ready in the garage, so I stuck the correct label in each pot. Two of the bulb groups (ibis and Peter Stuyvesant hyacinths) were placed in the correct pots on the patio, as I had labeled these pots and partially filled them with potting soil earlier.

Friday night was planting night. I had placed the plants in their containers in a large flat filled with water. It was cold and windy outdoors, and since it had not rained in two weeks, the soil was dry and hard. I dug the holes first, brought the plants out to the garden, placed the Braille labels near the holes, and placed the plants in the holes. They were very wet, which is how I wanted them. It rained all day on Sunday, but even though the amount wasn’t great, it was a perfect rain for the new plantings. I estimated on how deep to dig each hole, and unfortunately, they were not large enough. Since the plants were small and I used a trowel for this purpose, digging a little deeper and a little larger was not a major problem. The three Dianthus plants were small and will remain small, so they were placed in the border on the south side of the apple tree garden. The daisy was placed near an identical daisy plant in the middle of the apple tree garden.

In with the box of bulbs was an iris cultivar called “well endowed.” It is a bright yellow iris, and will do well along the south fence of the garden–just to the west of the lilac, and east of the rhubarb. Again, the Braille label was ready. Iris prefer to be planted shallow, and do well in a dryer environment. Therefore, it received no water before or after it was planted. Sunday’s rain will benefit it as well. As usual, this plant arrived bare root, with the small corm bulging out. I planted the corm just below ground level, with its former growth (now dead) just above ground. Iris are tough plants with only three things to deter them–iris borers, wet soil and ice storms. This iris is planted on sloping ground–a transition between our yard and our neighbor to the south–so wet soil should not be a threat.

Planting the hyacinths was next, a very easy task, due to my previous preparations. I simply took the hyacinths out of their mesh bags, placed them pointed side up in the pots, and filled the pots with dirt.

I ordered a new tulip cultivar called “match point.” I received ten bulbs–five for me, and five for my son Jack. No pots were prepared, but I had Braille labels. In planting these pots, I first placed dymo tape labels on the side of each pot. The next step was to place a coffee filter on the bottom of the pot to cover the drainage holes; this filter will degrade with time, and drainage will never be impeded. Filling the pot two-thirds full of potting soil was followed by placement of the bulbs in the pots–pointed side up again, then filling the pot with soil. The tips of both hyacinths and tulips should be just below the soil fill level. I have ten “passionale” tulips which must have been a free gift. I did not order them, nor do I know anything about them. I might plant part of them outdoors, and force a few–we’ll see.

Crocus are easy to force, and I follow much the same process as with hyacinths and tulips. I need to make Braille labels for these pots, but since they are unlabeled, I’ll know where to place them. Crocus bulbs are flat, and it can be hard to tell which end should be up. The bulb bottoms are slightly inverted in the middle, and I use this as a guide.

Beth loves the traditional bright yellow King Alfred daffodil cultivar, so I planted a pot of them as well. It is very easy to find the top of these bulbs. I plant them a little deeper than the bulbs I noted above. I also use a larger pot.

The last to be planted from this bulb box, and the first that will bloom, are the paperwhite narcissus. Since they will sprout soon, and will bloom by Thanksgiving, I leave their tips or “noses” just a little above the soil. Oftentimes I can feel the new sprouts already beginning to emerge, and I noted this on a couple of the bulbs when I planted them. I placed ten of these in one pot, so I will be able to tell them without a label–by their early sprouting, and their large pot. Nevertheless, I think I’ll label them anyway.

I have just received notice that another box of bulbs is on its way. Some of these will be planted outdoors, while others will be forced. I am excited about two new cultivars of Allium I have ordered, which will be placed west of the iris I recently planted.


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