A.  Yes, I would certainly encourage anyone, whether novice or not, to enjoy the beauty of colorful blooms in the dead of winter by forcing bulbs.

Actually, "forcing bulbs" is a benign phrase which simply means causing a plant to bloom during a time when it is normally dormant.  The process is a manipulation of temperatures and light conditions to simulate the cold time needed by bulbs for their annual rest period, then, stimulation to cause them to awaken before they normally would if planted outdoors.

Just about any bulb that is available for sale in the fall can be forced.  Two of the most commonly used bulbs for forcing are the amaryllis and paper-white narcissus.  Crocus are also easily forced, as are daffodils, hyacinth, anemone, tulips, bulbous iris, and grape hyacinth.

Although all bulbs will do better when grown in soil, or a potting soil mixture, many bulbs can be grown in pebbles and water, or just water alone.  A hyacinth glass, a vase shaped like an hour glass, is specifically made for forcing bulbs.  The bulb sits in the top part of the vase out of the water to prevent bulb rot, while allowing the roots to grow in the water-filled lower half.  It can be quite thrilling for the novice gardener or inquisitive child to watch bulbs grow and bloom in a clear glass container in nothing but water.

To get started, select your bulbs for planting in late fall or early winter.  For the beginner, it is best not to mix different types of bulbs in the same planter as they have different rooting and flowering schedules.  Instead, use as many different shallow pots or bulb pans as necessary for each type of bulb.  Set the bulbs shoulder to shoulder on a shallow layer of ordinary potting soil to which a level teaspoon of 5-10-5 dry fertilizer has been added per quart of potting soil.  Label each container with bulb type and date.  Set the containers in a cool dark place so the bulbs can begin producing roots.  Ideally, the cold dormancy period for forcing bulbs should be eight to fifteen weeks at 33 to 45 F depending on the bulb type.  You can generally get the specific information for your bulbs at the garden center where you purchased them.

Check the bulbs every few weeks to see if they need water and look for signs of growth.  When the shoots are an inch or two, place the planters in a bright cool area about 60 F.  At six inches, the plants will need 68 to 70 F with as much light as possible.  Keep pots away from heat sources such as hot air registers.  Turn the planters regularly to keep plants from stretching unevenly towards the sun.  When the blossoms open, place the plant in indirect light and keep as cool as possible to extend the life of the bloom.  The bloom should last for a week to ten days.

Throughout this time, continue to water and fertilize your bulbs.  Once the blooms have gone, you will still need to water the bulbs, but less and less frequently until the green leaves wither. At this point, the bulbs should be allowed to dry until the normal fall planting season when they can be planted out doors.  They cannot be "forced" again; and since their first year's growth was "forced", they will probably need several years recuperation in the garden before they bloom again.


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