The gentle coaxing of spring-flowering bulbs into early bloom indoors is a technique that's been practised since Victorian times—a tried-and-true tradition that gardeners continue today to chase away the darkness of winter. It's easy to do: the key is to give bulbs a cool environment that mimics what they would experience outdoors. September and October are the best months to pot up bulbs and store them in a cool place so they bloom early in the new year, when a splash of colour is most welcome.
Many types of hardy bulbs can be forced. The most obvious candidates are tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths, but don't overlook grape hyacinths, fritillaries, Siberian squills, irises and glory of the snow. Usually the short, early-blooming types are used because they flower in about 12 to 13 weeks and don't flop. Later-blooming tulips and some alliums require 18 weeks of cool temperatures to bloom. For hyacinths, many nurseries offer pre-cooled (sometimes called pre-conditioned or prepared) bulbs for forcing, which have been given a short head start in the Netherlands before being shipped to Canada. Subtract two to three weeks from the cooling time—usually 11 to 14 weeks—for these bulbs.
Enjoy an early spring
1. Buy bulbs in early fall. Make sure they're firm and heavy, have no sunken or mouldy spots or any obvious signs of damage. Remember: with bulbs, bigger is better—they have more stored energy and produce larger blooms. For example, the top grade of tulip has a circumference of more than 12 centimetres.
2. Bulbs should be planted within a few days of buying them; otherwise, store in a mesh bag in the refrigerator for up to a month. Choose wide, shallow, plastic pots (plastic is best for holding moisture in the soil)—roots don't need a lot of room, and squat pots are more stable for growing tall plants such as daffodils. Make sure the containers have drainage holes. If you're recycling pots, wash them with hot, soapy water; if there's a possibility they house disease spores, use a 10:1 ratio of water to bleach.