Bring some springtime color inside


Repot, refresh, and enjoy spring flowering bulbs indoors or outdoors on a patio, deck or porch. This is a great way to take advantage of bulbs that haven’t been planted this season, or to take advantage of end-of-season bulb discounts.

Larger flower bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and alliums get lots of display in your home, or in a planter or container. Add smaller bulbs like crocuses, scilles and grape hyacinths to the mix for extra beauty.

All you need is a container with drainage holes, potting soil, and a few bulbs. Shorter varieties work well or give taller varieties a bit of support with decorative twigs or stakes when displayed indoors.

Cover the bottom of the container with soil. Place several bulbs, pointed side up, on the potting soil. Place taller bulbs in the center surrounded by shorter varieties when creating a mixed garden. Place the tulips with the flat side of the bulb facing out for a better display. Cover the bulbs and fill the container with potting soil.

Enjoy weeks of colorful flowers by selecting a variety of bulbs that bloom from early to late spring. Stack the bulbs to maximize your planting space. Place larger bulbs on top of the soil layer at the bottom of the container. The larger of these will go to the center, surrounded by shorter varieties to maximize display.

Cover this first layer of bulbs with potting soil, leaving only the tips of the bulbs exposed. Add smaller bulbs like scilli, crocus, and grape hyacinth bulbs to the top tier. Plant them close together between the ends 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 place, at around 35 to 45 degrees for at least 12 to 15 weeks. This cold period is necessary to start the flowering of these bulbs. A spare refrigerator or in colder areas, an unheated garage works well. Or if the ground has not frozen, ram the pot into a vacant space in the garden. It works for those who garden in areas where winter temperatures are cold enough to provide the necessary cold. Mulch the ground with evergreen branches once the ground begins to freeze. This will make it easier to remove the pot in early spring.

Eliminate this step by purchasing pre-chilled bulbs. These have received the necessary cold treatment and are ready to be potted and grown indoors or outdoors in warmer regions.

Check stored bulbs regularly for early germination and move to a cooler location if necessary. Water the stored bulbs whenever the soil is thawed and dry.

After 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 place with bright indirect light inside. Water abundantly as needed and watch for flowers to appear in about four weeks. Remove one pot per week from the cold room to prolong your enjoyment.

Watch for spring growing conditions before moving forced bulbs into outdoor planters. Once the weather is favorable for the bulbs to germinate and grow outdoors, it is prudent to relocate the bulbs forced into the landscape.

When they have finished flowering, you can compost the bulbs, or for those suited to your growing conditions, add them to the garden. Remove withered flowers and water 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 during flowering.

Move indoor forced bulbs outside as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Those in containers outside can stay in the pots until the foliage wilts or the garden is ready for planting. Or store the bulbs in a cool, dark place for the summer and plant them in the fall along with other hardy bulbs. So be patient, as it can take two years for these to bloom.

Forcing bulbs to bloom in the spring is a great way to add beauty to your home decor, patio, balcony, or deck. They also make great gifts for gardeners of all experience levels.

Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including “The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook” and “Small Space Gardening”. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. His website is

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