Kitchen Garden

Spring Bulbs Grown Indoors to Greet the Season

hyacinths in pots

Spring Bulbs Can Be Grown Indoors

With spring on the horizon, you may be may be itching to do some gardening.  Nothing makes you think of this invigorating season more than flowers.  When you see your landscape bursting in colorful bloom, it makes you smile.  Most of these floral heralds of spring come from bulbs that lay dormant all winter.  These bulbs can even surprise you with fresh green shoots coming out of late snows.  Did you know that you can also grow indoor bulbs?

There is a magical connection between people and the plants they love.  Plants offer us incomparable beauty and nutritious food sources.  No wonder so many people are turning to the vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.  We feel more alive when we admire plants and consume the edible ones. In 2014, a Harris Interactive study commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, approximately five percent of the U.S. is vegetarian (close to 16 million people) and about half of these vegetarians are vegan.  In the US, this number has doubled since 2009 from 2.5 percent of the population.  With increasing evidence that abstaining from animal products may be a key ingredient to good health, this number can only be expected to grow.

indoor daffodils

After a Long Winter, We Are Anxious for Fresh Spring Flowers – Even Indoors

Are the winter doldrums getting you down and making you long for spring blossoms?  You do not have to wait for the calendar to change. You can grow lovely flower bulbs right in your own home—weeks before your neighbors’ lawns bloom.  This time-honored process is called “forced” blooming.

There are two different styles of indoor bulbs to consider. Some flower bulbs grow naturally in warmer climates and do not need to be chilled before forced blooming.  Other ones are used to dormancy in the winter and need to be chilled before they bloom.  Here are some helpful hints for growing some of your favorite flower bulbs indoors:

Indoor Bulbs That Are “Chill-Free” – Do Not Require Pretreatment

If you adore paper white narcissus or amaryllis, you do not have to worry about chilling the bulbs:

  • Paper whites, also called narcissus, are a welcome addition to your kitchen table. They are as delicate as a tissue and have a sweet fragrance. Purchase a bag of bulbs in your local nursery in the fall and store them in a place that is dry and cool, like your pantry or closet. You can start a few each week—right into spring. They should have flowers in a little over a month.
  • Amaryllis: Would you like to add a tropical flair to your house during the winter? You can have amaryllis growing at Christmas time, says thespruce.com. They come in a variety of lovely colors, such as pink, peach, cream, and vibrant reds. You should see blooms within 6-8 weeks.

Growing Instructions for Chill-Free Bulbs

You will need:

  • A pot that is between 4-6 inches deep (for flowers grown in dirt)
  • A decorative dish that is wide and shallow (for flowers grown in stones)
  • A quality potting soil that has compost
  • Pretty marbles or small stones
  • Small bamboo stalks (to support heavy stems in potted plants)
  • A warming lamp (if your window sill is not warm or bright enough)

You can put them in a pot of soil or grow them in a shallow bowl. Use a few decorative rocks to keep the bulbs in place. For the first couple weeks, put the indoor bulbs in indirect light at temperatures around 50 degrees F. When they start to sprout, bring them into brighter lights and warmer temperatures. Water them when the soil feels dry. When you are growing these bulbs in a bowl with stones, add enough water to cover the bulbs a fourth of the way on the bottom.

amarylis indoors

Bulbs That Require Chilling – or “Forcing”- for Indoor Growth

Many of your favorite bulb flowers need their beauty rest in the winter’s cold. These iconic spring blossoms include grape hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, Dutch irises, tulips, and lilies.  The cold temperatures give the bulbs a natural cue to start growing a flower.  If they do not get enough chill, their flowers may be inferior.  It takes a little over 4 months of chilling before the bulbs sprout.  They will then be ready for light and warmer temperatures.  If you are trying to grow daffodils and tulips, you may need to pay them a little more attention as they are growing.

How To Properly Chill Bulbs to Force Blooming

You may hear some old timers refer to chilling as “wintering” their bulbs. You are just replicating the native cold season that will force your indoor bulbs into bloom. They must be planted before you chill them:

You will need:

  • Pots that are wide and shallow, and at least 4-6 inches deep
  • Quality potting soil (2/3 soilless mix, 1/3 compost/soil).
  • Labels/marker to label each pot with plant name/planting date
  • If you are planting several pots, a shelving unit would come in handy

Since different bulbs may vary in blooming time, only plant one type of bulb in each pot.  Place a small coffee filter or a paper towel in the bottom of each pot to cover the drainage hole.  This will allow for proper drainage without losing your soil.

Next, add about 2 inches of potting soil in each pot.  Put several bulbs in at about ½ inch apart.  Cover the rest of the bulb with soil. Ideally, the tops of the bulbs should be level with the pot’s rim.

The indoor bulbs need to be stored in a place that is between 35 degrees F and 45 degrees F for about four weeks.  Some great spots may be an unheated basement, your cold frame, or perhaps a crawl space in the house.  If you live further south and have mild winters, just store them in your flower garden under a layer of clean straw.  Keep chilling pots moist, but do not drown them with water.

blooming bulbs indoors

Ready, Set, Grow!

After your bulbs have chilled for the right amount of time, you can bring them out to bloom.  Put them in a place in your house that is about 60 degrees F with indirect sunlight. After a couple of weeks, you should notice sprouts that are between 2 and 5 inches tall.  Now, you can put your pots in full sunlight with temperatures between 68-70 degrees F. If you want your flowers to last a bit longer, put them back into indirect sunlight after they bloom.

After Your Bulbs Stop Blooming

You should have a couple of weeks’ worth of blossoming beauty until the bulbs are spent.  If you really want to plant them outdoors, then fertilize the leftover stems and keep them watered until they have wilted—usually within a couple of months.  You can plant the bulbs in your garden; however, do not get your hopes up too high.  If they ever bloom again, it may take them several years. Most forced indoor bulbs probably will not ever re-bloom—especially species of paperwhites.  Save yourself the work and just add them to your compost pile, recommends thespruce.com.

Troubleshooting Issues with Indoor Bulb Cultivation

If your bulbs are not growing, check the heat and light in the location.  You may need to re-locate the pots to get optimal conditions.  If you do not have a bright window sill, try using a growing light.  You can find them at most gardening centers.  If you do not see blooms, check your watering schedule.  Only water the pots when the soil is dry.

You can fill your house with some of your favorite spring flowers—even when the snow is falling!  Plants can boost our moods and provide fresh oxygen, says healthline.com.  Forced indoor bulbs also make wonderful gifts.  Indoor bulb gardening can be fun for the whole family!

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