It may be unpleasant to realize winter is so close, but if you want spring bulbs in flower for the holidays, you need to get them planted in the next few days.
Those beautifully scented containers to grace your holiday tables take 8 to 10 weeks from planting to flowering, and a look at the calendar tells the time for action is here.
Hyacinth, daffodils and crocus can be forced in several ways, and I have just planted bulbs in four materials, hoping the timing is right for Christmas blossoms. I chose white hyacinths and white narcissus to make sure they blend in well with whatever holiday decor I end up with this year.
When my basement flooded badly in late summer, I lost most of my decorations, so this is an opportunity to start over.
Forcing in water is the simplest way to ensure a winter display, and crocus, hyacinths and narcissus respond well. Special hyacinth vases are sold for this purpose.
The bulb is set into the larger section on top, with the bottom of the bulb just touching the water that fills the rest of the container. Keep the vase in a cool, dark place for a few weeks until a good root system has developed, and then bring it out and set in a sunny window, where it will flower soon.
I found a medium that is new to me while I was looking for the bulbs.
It is called Water Gems - colorless balls of absorbent polymer looking like clear glass marbles. They become invisible when covered with water. I thought I somehow had melted the Gems when I covered a dish of them with water - but when I poured the liquid away, there they were. A most peculiar optical illusion!
I have hyacinths planted in this container.
An excellent blue hyacinth for forcing is Delft Blue. The strong scent will fill a room, and the clusters of star-shaped flowers are beautiful. They also come in pink or yellow.
Some narcissus I have enjoyed in the past are Ziva, Paper White or Soleil d'Or, and any variety of crocus will look like spring.
Bulbs also can be grown in shallow pans filled with gravel or pebbles. Secure the bulbs in the gravel for stability, and keep watered, making sure only the base of the bulb is touching the water at all times.
Again use that dark, cool space for the weeks that roots need to develop, and then a sunny window will encourage flowering.
Another choice is to use soilless potting mix or compost, using the same technique as for gravel. Regular potting mix holds too much water and may cause the bulb to rot.
I have written before about the use of alcohol to keep paperwhites from falling over. Researchers at Cornell University found a way to stunt the growth of the plants,
thus helping with the top-heavy problem.
Plant them in water as described above, and when the green shoot on top measures about 2 inches, pour the water and replace with an alcohol solution. This should be less than 10 percent, and you can use whisky, gin, vodka or rubbing alcohol. Wine or beer will not work because they are too high in sugar.
You will need to use some fancy math to arrive at a solution between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Check the bottle for alcohol percentage when making the solution. I read a formula that instructs you to check the percentage of alcohol listed on the label, divide the percentage by 5 and subtract 1, and that should tell you how many parts of water to mix with your alcohol.
Continue to use your cocktail for watering for the life of the plant.
The forcing process is hard on the bulbs and uses all of their energy, and so it is not likely they could flower again.
Add the spent plants to your compost pile, and allow them to provide you with good soil additive for Christmases to come.