I have decided that this winter, more than ever, I need things to look forward to. The first signs of spring will not appear until late March or early April here, so this autumn I have planted lots of flower bulbs in pots, so that I can get them to flower earlier, indoors while it’s still snow and winter outside.
There is no doubt that spring bulbs are amongst my favorite plants. There is something magical about the first, early plants that bring joy and colour in the garden in early spring. But luckily I don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy the the early flowering bulbs.
For several years I was so lucky to know Elin Conradi (Norwegian writer, gardener and plantsperson) who had a wonderful and exciting garden at Smestad in Oslo. Even though Elin’s garden was in many ways more of a shaded woodland garden, she loved the early spring bulbs, especially the wild tulips. The tulips, on the other hand, who prefer the dry slopes and mountain sides of the Middle East were often short lived visitors to her garden. Therefor she would often grow them in pots so they could be enjoyed close up.
It was from Elin that I learned about growing flower bulbs in pots. Both for indoor and outdoor use. Every autumn, a good number of bulbs were potted up and the pots placed in the compost heap in the corner of the garden. When the flowerbulbs began to peek through the frozen compost in spring, they were taken out, pots brushed off and placed on the table or patio to be enjoyed. In this way, they became easier to admire, especially for a lady who had more and more difficulty moving around the garden as the years passed. Also, you could get a really nice close look at them without bending over too much.
Elin also forced bulbs inside to get even earlier flowers. In her book Min Villhave (My Wild Garden) Elin writes: “Before I move indoors for winter, the very last spring preparation is started: The forced spring bulbs. In this house there will be no proper Sunday breakfast in February sun without pots of flowering crocus, iris, tulips or daffodils being on the table. This is one of the traditions I have inherrited and I am constantly trying new varieties.“
I also continued the tradition here at Holter.
Here’s how I do it: Different bulbs are laid shallowly in pots with soil. I don’t plant them as deep as I would in the garden and I plant one variety per pot. In the indoor heat, the bulbs will bloom over quite quickly, so if I put several different varieties in the same pot I can risk that one variety blooms first and then fade before the next variety starts. Wilting flowers are not as exciting to look at in amongst the fresh flowers. Of course, it might work out ok. Especially if you choose two varieties of crocus, two Iris reticulata varieties or mix white and light blue Puschkinia for example, but I find it is safest to stick to one variety per pot and instead mix several different pots on the table as the flowers start to come out.
Start by choosing a pot. You can choose whatever pot you have or like. It just need to hold compost and preferably have holes in the bottom. However, if you are going to put the pots out in frost, like I sometimes do (look further down) then you should use something that can withstand freezing without breaking. Use a completely standard potting compost in the pots or soil from the garden. You can use whatever you have and it does not have to be the best compost, as it is primarily something for the flower bulbs to anchor themselves into. A rich compost with nutrients is not important now since the flowers are already formed inside the flower bulb before planting. If however your plan is to get the flower bulb to come back year after year, or plant them out in the garden after flowering, it is important to give them a liquid feed or a compost richer in nutrients to start with. I plant dem out in the garden after they are done, but I dont expect them to flower well the following year, but maybe the year after once they are re-established.
Fill the pot almost full of potting compost and place the flower bulbs so the tip of the bulbs are situated just below the pots edge. Cover and water unless the potting compost is already moist.
If you put the pots of bulbs straight out in the freezing cold (Minus degrees below Celsius), it rarely goes well, as the bulbs have to root before it will survive in frozen soil. Leave the pots in a cool place until you’re sure they’ve rooted. Elin would put hers in a storage room where the temperature rarely rose to above 10 °C. I have the pots in our basement. Here they are placed until they start showing signs of growth. Keep the potting compost moist. It should never be too wet, nor should it be too dry. If it’s too hot and the flower bulbs start growing too early, I put them out in the cold before the shots have become too advanced.
When we are starting to get nearer to the time that spring flowers are wanted inside, the pots with flower bulbs are brought in. But they are not placed in the warmest place in the house. A cooler location is better where they can grow slowly. Only when the buds begin to show colour are they brought into the warmth of the living room. If they’ve been growing in a cool place, for example, in the basement, and the flower bulbs decide it’s time to flower, it’s hard to hold them back unless you have an even cooler place to put them. You still have to wait until the buds start to appear and show colour before they are taken into the warmth of the house.
So if you still have flower bulbs you haven’t had time to plant in the garden, just pot them up and look forward to early spring joy in pots.
How long does a tulip bulb need to establish roots outside before frost?