Start a Winter Bulb Garden Now (in Just a Few Minutes!)

In my “perfect world,” I have a house full of have fresh flowers–all year round!  In reality, lack of time or money often gets in the way.  But if you’d like an idea for winter flowers that is time-management friendly and easy on the wallet, now is the time to get started!

grape hyacinths

Grape Hyacinths – in February!

Last year, I potted up a bunch of flower bulbs, chilled them (did you know that most bulbs like tulips and daffodils need to experience weeks of cold in order to bloom?), then set them out to bloom–in the middle of winter.  It was a great success and I can’t wait to do it again.

Have you seen the packages of flower bulbs–grape hyacinths, tulips, etc–that grace the aisles and endcaps or hardware stores, garden centers and home improvement centers every fall?  As winter closes in, the prices drop dramatically and at some point in November, they become a screaming deal.

tulips and hyacinths

Tulips too!

Here’s how to turn bargain bulbs into a winter bonanza!

Winter Bulb Forcing

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1.  Select an appropriate planting container.  A clay pot is ideal, but if you’d like something more decorative, just pick something with drainage holes.  A shallow pot is fine if you are planting a single type of bulb, but if you want to layer 2-3 varieties, be sure to pick something deeper.

2.  Put a layer of potting mix (I use homemade compost, mixed with a little sand and peat, which helps keep the cost low) on the bottom of the pot, then layer in the largest bulbs.  Set them in pointed side up and close together but not touching.

Tulip bulbs in bottom layer of pot

Tulip bulbs in bottom layer of pot

3.  Layer in some additional potting soil, then add a second layer of bulbs and cover these with soil.  Repeat this if you have three types of bulbs (I originally intended to do daffodils on the bottom, then tulips, then grape hyacinths, but the daffodils were sold out).

grape hyacinth bulbs in pot

Top layer of grape hyacinths

4.  Top off with soil mix, water the bulbs, then loosely cover the pot.  Your goal is to retard evaporation, but not create an environment that is so tight you grow moss or mold.

Pot in bag

Cover pot loosely

5.  Place in a cold environment to rest.  A spare refrigerator (without fruit–fruit gives off a gas that hurts bulbs and even vegetables that are stored long term) or an unheated garage that stays consistently between 33 and 45 degrees is a good choice.   Avoid areas that will experience a series of freeze and thaw cycles over the winter such as a detached garage.  Check the pots every few weeks for moisture levels and water or loosen covering as needed.

bulbs beginning to sprout

Beginning to sprout

6.  After 12 or more weeks, remove the pots to a room temperature environment a (ideal temperatures are about  65-68 during the day and 60 at night).  Water as needed, then watch the show arrive in about three weeks! Chilling time is critical.  I used a chilling time of eight weeks in one pot, and just the grape hyacinths bloomed.  In the pot I took out at twelve weeks , both the tulips and hyacinths bloomed.

forcing-bulbs-g-hyacinth-fu

In the spirit of full disclosure, last year I got distracted and finally planted my bulbs in a desperate flurry of activity on Christmas day.  This year, I plan to start them in November so that I can have my flowers even earlier!

Who needs April showers!

forcing-bulbs-grape-hyacint

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21 thoughts on “Start a Winter Bulb Garden Now (in Just a Few Minutes!)

  1. Louise

    I’m going to miss the garden over the winter, Inger. I was out there today cleaning up and collecting more seeds. I actually planted some seeds and bulbs in planters and put them in the shed. I figure in the “dead” of winter, I’ll put the bulbs outside to “cool” just in case the shed isn’t cold enough. I’m sure it will be though:)

    I don’t know if you remember the pineapple I planted. Well, it is growing leaps and bounds, it’s actually a beautiful plant. However, no fruit yet. I think I will put it in the shed too with an apple. Those gases are supposedly good for making pineapple bear fruit, lol…

    Have you ever heard of planting different bulbs in layers in the same pot? I’m thinking of trying that too. A bit ambitious but I have a feeling I may be waiting til christmas Day too, lol…

    Thanks for sharing, Inger…

    1. Inger

      Hi Louise–I do remember you planting the pineapple. Glad it has worked out. I may have to try that myself some time.

      I did actually plant two layers, tulips and grape hyacinths–the two bulb pictures are actually of the same pot, just different layers. Many of the guides recommend a single layer, but the double worked great for me so I may even try three different bulbs this year if I go shopping early enough.

    1. Inger

      I just brought all my potted herbs inside–talk about cat bait! I think Morgan has permanent chive breath. I don’t recall them going after the bulbs last spring though. Less tasty than herbs?

    1. Inger

      Storing in an unheated garage wouldn’t work for you 😉 but if you have a spare refrigerator with space, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work–especially if you time it to come out when indoor temperatures are lowest. You can also sometimes order pre-chilled bulbs which have that part of the work done for you. If you try it successfully, you should put a picture in your blog!

    1. Inger

      I assume you are a bit warmer than we are–wondering if you “bundled up” a pot in an old blanket and put it against the house if that would insulate it from temperature changes. Our vacation place has an attached garage which stays warmer and I think I’ll experiment with chilling a pot in it this winter.

  2. Claire

    Ah flowers all year round would be magic! I haven’t grow bulbs for forcing since I lived at home with my mum – thanks for the reminder and the happy memories. and yes I’m chuckling away thinking of you planting bulbs on Christmas day 🙂

  3. lena

    oh, i got terrible hands, just cant do gardening..i also think part of it is due to my lack of effort and time to take care of those plants…but interesting to know about growing the bulbs in cold storage.

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