October is the perfect time to pot up forced bulbs for an indoor Christmas display of hyacinths and Paperwhite narcissi. If you have never done it before, it’s so easy to do and filling your house with flower and fragrance at Christmastime, or giving away pots as presents, is simply wonderful!
You can use ordinary bulbs for indoor planting and you may have success, but a ‘forced’ bulb has been pre-chilled which means it is ready to kick into life rather than waiting for a cold frost if it were an ordinary bulb planted outside.
Most bulbs which you try to force for a Christmas display need to have a period in the cool and be in the dark for anywhere from around 8 – 12 weeks depending on the variety, so be sure to look for forced bulbs when buying.
A cool and dark garage, shed, or cupboard can be the ideal place for a few weeks before bringing them into a warmer room in the house with more light, which tricks the bulb into thinking it is spring and voila; the stems and flower buds will shoot up over the next few weeks.
It is easy to pick up bulb fibre at a local garden centre or nursery to use instead of general multi-purpose compost. It is a little more expensive but bulb fibre contains charcoal, which as it is porous helps to keep the soil damp whilst stopping the bulbs from rotting. Do make sure though not to overwater bulbs – no one likes a soggy bottom!
You can plant the bulbs close together in your chosen container but make sure they are not touching, with the pointy end of the bulb always pointing upwards. Fill around the bulbs with more bulb fibre but leave the tips showing, water, and then pop them away in the garage for 6 – 10 weeks. Ideally, keep the potted bulbs at a temperature between 2C and 10C. You need do little else but a weekly check to make sure the bulb fibre has not dried out.
Come Into the Light
Once you have shoots of about 5cm or so, you can bring the whole pot indoors and with the light and heat of your house, you can be looking at flowers appearing in about 3 – 4 weeks.
After enjoying your indoor display over Christmas, keep watering the bulbs and you can plant them outside in the garden to fill a gap in the border after the risk of frost has passed. And they will come back next year performing just as a regular garden bulb.