Winter Gardening and the Forced Bloom:
Bulb Trays and Flower Pots
By Edward McWilliams, HCA Curator of Exhibits & C.A.R.E. Team Manager
In our previous article from the Historical Hobbyist, we discussed the seasonal pastime of forcing bulbs to bloom in the winter. Of the four containers that this technique involves, we covered Bulb Jars and Flower Bricks. In today’s article, we finish up with Bulb Trays and Flower Pots.
Bulb trays are heavy pottery or ceramic trays with shallow interiors designed to hold bulbs. Flower trays work well for larger arrangements of bulbs or make for spectacular displays of multi-bloom flowers.
I also use other flower vases and pots (with no holes) to fill with small pebbles (pea gravel works well – rinse sand from the stones) and even multi-colored marbles. The process is easy and takes very few steps to complete.
As above, I fill the containers with the stone, add water, and gently push the bulbs into the stones with the points facing up. Make certain that the tray always has water up to the bottom of the bulbs. That is all!
Again, place the containers in a cool place for four to six weeks, move to a sunny window and, depending on the temperature and plant variety, you should have blooms in a week or two depending on the room temperature.
It may be necessary to push the bulb into the stone as the plants mature to help the plant stay secured. Additional supports, such as skewers, can be used to tether the plant and keep it upright. Just push the skewers into the stones and tie the plants with twine.
I recommend paper whites narcissus, jonquils, and mixed color hyacinths for this presentation.
When I am ambitious and have more time on my hands, I pot lily of the valley, crocus, miniature iris, grape hyacinths, and ranunculus into small clay flowerpots. I fill the pots with potting soil and place the bulbs and rhizomes just three quarters of the way below the surface of the soil. The tips of the bulbs should be seen on the surface of the soil.
Water the bulbs and always keep the soil moist. Again – a sunny, warm bright window is the catalyst to trick the plants into thinking it is spring and you will be pleased with the effort you invested back in October.
In the past I have combined several of the plants into one pot and, when they bloom, place the pot into a small plastic container that fits into an antique jardinière or vase and line the top with sphagnum moss to cover the top of the liner.
It is important to pre- chill the bulbs in all of the described forcing methods. In order to simulate springtime condition, bulbs should be previously placed in a cold place for several weeks, preferably six.
Sometimes I place the bulbs in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator or in a potting shed. An unheated garage can also provide the necessary conditions of 35F to 45F temperatures.
I must confess that on occasion I have skipped the pre-chilling part and gone directly to forcing in the containers with the same success.
In addition to the bulbs, some flowering shrubs can also be forced to bloom and can compliment your display.
I cut branches of quince and forsythia in January, place them in a large vase, add water and a warm spot, and within a week blooms appear on the branches. I have attached small artificial cardinals and sparrows to the branches for a natural appearance.
I hope you try one or two of the suggestions above.
If you do – blog us with your comments, suggestions and pictures!
Edward McWilliams is a Delaware native currently residing in Laurel, Del. He holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in arts management from American University. McWilliams joined HCA in 1996, was named Delaware Department of State’s Employee of the Year in 2009, and currently serves the state in dual roles as Curator of Exhibits and C.A.R.E. Team Manager.