It's the Plants, Darling, Shut Up and Dig

Let the bulbs begin

Who the hell knows what kind of winter we’ll be having in this formerly snow-identified corner of New York, but there will certainly be a few months of dormancy. This is what bulb season is for. It’s the closest I can get to real gardening (other than houseplant maintenance) during the cold months.  In this scenario, I turn fall into sort of a bogus spring planting season, ordering hundreds of bulbs that will either a., go into the ground, b., go into big pots, c., go into vases for root cellar forcing, d. go into vases for indoor growing. I can easily get through close to 1000 bulbs this way—and it would be almost twice as many if I had a big space to fill up with crocuses. (It’s really lucky for our fiscal health that I don’t.)

Bulb forcing is not something you hear much about in current gardening practice. I understand why—I suppose to many it seems fussy, old-fashioned, and maybe wasteful, as forced bulbs have limited reuse potential. Tazettas can’t be reused at all, and hyacinths will usually need a year to recover before they can grow in the ground after forcing. I know many who buy previously forced daffodils and tulips from the local botanical gardens; I don’t know how they do with them.

Nonetheless, I have been trying to get the word out about alternative ways to use bulbs. This month, I have articles in Leaf (click to read the fall issue of this digital mag) on hyacinth and tazetta forcing and in Fine Gardening (11/12 issue, which will be on stands this week) on growing tulips in big pots, which isn’t forcing but does help avoid some of the pitfalls of in-ground planting.

You may remember there was a silly promotional campaign for bulbs a few months back. I didn’t like the campaign, but I rabidly endorse its basic premise. Bulbs are cool. People should use them more.

P.S. Leaf is a much cooler mag than my little bulb how-to might lead you to believe. Be sure to browse the whole thing and don’t miss the article on corn whisky.

Posted by on September 17, 2012 at 10:05 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling, Shut Up and Dig.
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6 responses to “Let the bulbs begin”

  1. Yes, nothing dresses up spring like bulbs, and everyone should have a few thousand in their yard. Of course, they multiply.

  2. Jason says:

    I feel like a mere dabbler. I ordered 90 tulips and 200 crocuses this year. I’m putting all the tulips in pots. This is the first time I’m growing them that way. I just got my copy of Fine Gardening – I’ll look for your article!

  3. Martha says:

    Yay bulbs. They are so reliable and beautiful. Everyone would be happier if they had bulbs growing in water, bulbs growing in pots, bulbs growing in the soil.
    Bulbs are cool.

  4. tropaeolum says:

    Elizabeth, You aren’t really forcing when you plant bulbs in pots, right? You are planting them and letting them go through their normal growth process before putting them on display?

    Last winter I did an experiment with daffodils and hyacinths. You said that you had problems before with them rotting. I kept them in the garage for a month or two and then put them outside thinking that they would be able to handle it. Nope. All of them turned to mush. The tulips could handle it, but hyacinths and daffs all croaked. This winter I will keep all the pots in the garage until spring (unless it is a hard winter in which case they will come inside on the coldest days).

  5. Eliz says:

    Yes, I find tulips handle this best. But keep in mind that anything in a pot is a zone or two colder. That’s why I wait until early April.

  6. Diane says:

    I have never tried forcing bulbs, but after reading this I’m going to give it a try! Thanks!