As we kick the holiday season into high-gear we’re already thinking about the fun parties and celebrations we’ll be attending in the next month. Whatever the occasion, it’s always nice to show up on someone’s doorstep with a thoughtful gift in hand for the hospitable host or hostess. Forced bulbs are an inexpensive and creative way to give your host a lasting reminder of a successful party, and add a little bit of life (and fragrance) to the otherwise cold winter months. No need to mess around with dirt; just keep a few supplies on hand (bulbs, gravel, containers) and you’ll always have a gift just minutes away. You can start some in your own home to watch and enjoy until you send them off to their new owners!
Usually bulbs rest during the winter, but during their dormant months you can trick them into thinking it’s springtime, and with the right conditions you can have beautiful blooms in several weeks. We purchased some paperwhite bulbs from our local hardware store for about a dollar a piece. Most nurseries, garden shops or hardware stores with gardening sections will have a small selection of bulbs to choose from. The bulbs we chose already had some green shoots and were ready to be planted. Paperwhites will usually only bloom once when forced and watching the process up close is a true treat.
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We like to collect containers throughout the year, and a quick trip to the flea market or thrift store will turn up dozens of viable options. You’ll want to spread a good layer of gravel down, rest the bulb root side down on top of it, and then cover up just the very bottom of the bulbs with gravel as well. Choose a container that’s large enough for the bulb to breathe and develop a root system; you’ll want to leave about ½ inch between the bulb and the edge of the vase. The idea is that the gravel will provide a sturdy foundation for the roots as the stalks grow in the following weeks. Just add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulb. Make sure to keep the level consistent, the roots dry up quickly and a submersed bulb will rot.
The hardest part is over! Tie it up with a ribbon and Mother Nature will do (most) of the rest! Make sure to leave your host with some instructions on how to proceed over the next few weeks:
1. Keep the water filled just to the bottom of the bulb. Not too much!
2. Store the vase and bulb in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.
3. A cool windowsill with indirect light works the best. A bulb left in a spot that it too warm will get very leggy and topple over. Bulbs grown in cooler conditions will become bushier and will last for up to two weeks longer!
4. If your stalks become too tall and begin to lean over you can use a slender stick to add support. Just push the stick down into the gravel by the base of the bulb, and use some narrow ribbon or twine to tie up the leaning stalks to the stick.
5. As flowers begin to appear in the next few weeks pluck off any spent blooms. This will encourage the new waiting buds to open. Enjoy!