Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fun With Force

When days get shorter and leaves flitter on fall's velvet breaths, I start to think ahead to the holidays, to projects that carry on traditions intended to delight. One of those practices involves forcing flowers into bloom, contrary to their habit.

Forcing is the practice of fooling bulbs into thinking it's spring and time to bloom, even when it's as early as Christmas. I force spring-blooming bulbs for use in fairy gardens, for holiday table centerpieces and gift giving, as well as my own pleasure.

For fairy gardens, I plant narcissus bulbs just before Thanksgiving using a 16" moss-lined hanging basket. I start the bulbs outside in potting soil. When I'm ready to create the garden in the narcissus "forest," I bring the basket it and place on a flat tray. Normal in-door warmth will force the blooms in the "tree tops" in a matter of days.

I add miniature houses and animals from my collection. Yes, I have a collection of tiny figurines that I've gathered throughout my life. doesn't everyone? I change the "fairyland" each year. Children love to peer into the garden and I usually spirit an unexpected treat or tiny gift into the forest during the holidays.

My choices for this gentle art include narcissus, hyacinths and tulips. The bulbs will be available soon at most garden centers. By planning ahead, these delightful floral displays will last throughout the holidays. It's not a lot of work. Buy the bulbs in early October and put in the refrigerator. That's it. The rest is about timing.

Bulbs need to be chilled to keep them dormant until the time is right for planting. Put them in the vegetable crisper and mark the bag. But, what's the right time? Depends on how you want to use them to brighten dark spots during long winter nights. I plant narcissus about Thanksgiving.

Narcissus will bloom in about 6 weeks. With planning and two identical pots, it's possible to have blooming narcissus all through the holiday season. Tulips and hyacinth take 10 to 12 weeks, so it's important to start chilling now for holiday blossoms.

Forcing narcissus and hyacinth can be done in rock and water in non-draining pots for indoor blooms. I have special hour-glass shaped vases that keep the bulb's roots wet, but the bulb stays above the water. Ask about hyacinth or bulb vases at your garden center.

It's a tradition in Holland to line window sills with these vases and blooms to brighten neighborhoods during the winter. 

You'll find Yamagami Nursery's helpful  Bulb Forcing Guide  by clicking this link. Located in Cupertino in Silicon Valley, the nursery is a delight to visit any time of year. There's always something interesting going on there for gardeners.