Spring flowers can arrive earlier than expected

12/15/2013 8:00 AM |

PHOTO COURTESY CORNELL RESEARCH LAB | Hyacinth Blue Jacket.

Winter may be on its way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy spring flowers.

By forcing spring bulbs, anyone can fool Mother Nature into offering up beautiful blossoms earlier than usual.

The process, which involves artificially chilling bulbs for eight to 15 weeks, thus coaxing them to bloom out of season, is an easy way to enjoy a variety of flowers, including amaryllis, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses and narcissus.

To help, we’ve rounded up a few experts for a quick tutorial.

Let’s get started.

STEP 1

Chill the bulbs. After purchasing your bulbs of choice, carefully place them in a paper bag and leave them in the refrigerator for several weeks, depending on the variety, says Janis Leonti, a floral designer at The Flower Shop in downtown Riverhead.

“You have to keep the bulbs cold,” she said. “You have to trick them into thinking they’ve gone through autumn and winter.”

That paper bag is important, by the way.

“Plastic bags will make the bulbs rot,” Ms. Lionti says. “Paper bags keep them fresh.”

To further ensure freshness, Thomas Kowalsick, a senior horticulture consultant at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, recommends checking the bulbs periodically to make sure they aren’t moldy or drying out.

No room in the fridge? You can also put the bulbs in a planting pot and leave them outdoors to chill, provided the temperature is consistently lower than 45° F, Mr. Kowalsick said.

And if you’d rather not chill your own bulbs, some retailers, like Chick’s Agway in Southold, sell them pre-chilled.

“They’re shipped from Holland with the words ‘Ready for forcing’ on the package,” says Valerie Cichanowicz, owner of Chick’s Agway.

PHOTO COURTESY CORNELL RESEARCH LAB | Narcissus (daffodils).

STEP 2

Plant the bulbs. Congratulations! You’ve pulled off a cunning feat of trickery and are now ready to plant your bulbs.

Mr. Kowalsick advises using a clean pot with drainage holes and filling it with two inches of potting soil. Place, but don’t push, the bulbs into position then add enough soil to fill the pot, using your fingertips to make the soil firm while being careful to avoid bruising the bulbs.

Since different types of bulbs require different periods of time to grow, or root, Mr. Kowalsick recommends that you avoid combining varieties in the same pot.

Place the potted bulbs in a sunny spot in your home and let them warm up.

STEP 3

Enjoy the fruits (er, flowers) of your labor. Now that the grunt work is over, sit back and watch your bulbs bloom into the beautiful flowers they were meant to be. Depending on the type of bulb you’ve planted, they’ll begin blossoming in a matter of weeks.

“You’ll see the green shoots come out and all of a sudden the flower buds will pop up,” Ms. Leonti says.

“You can almost watch them grow,” Ms. Cichanowicz adds. “It’s just amazing.”

ryoung@timesreview.com