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How to force small spring bulbs indoors
When we think of growing Spring bulbs indoors we often think of hyacinths and paper white narcissi, maybe amaryllis. We think of the pots of ready planted, often quite boring, bulbs that line garden centre shelves at Christmas.
But all spring bulbs can be grown to flower indoors and, given our weather and the fact that they are often tiny, it is often the best way to actually see them properly.
At this time of year my home is full of flowering bulbs - I use them to help me through the part of the year which is darkest, they bring a bit of nature into my daily life. My favourites for January are snowdrops and crocus.
You can grow bulbs specifically for flowering indoors - this involves careful monitoring of temperature and light. I am not good at keeping track of things so instead I use 2 cheats ways of bringing spring flowers indoors.
Bulbs that transplant in the green - snowdrops, bluebells, snowflakes.
The first method that I use is to dig actual bulbs out of my garden as soon as I see them beginning to shoot and to carefully transplant them into containers for the house.
This is an ideal method for any bulbs that like to be transplanted 'in the green' (i.e. immediately after flowering) as you can bring them into the house to flower and then return them to the garden afterwards without damaging the plant.
- Choose a clump of bulbs where you can see the flowers are already there.
- Carefully dig up going much deeper than you think with your trowel - bulbs will drag themselves deep into the soil so they may well be much deeper than when you planted them - wiggle your trowel to make sure you are under the bulbs and not just going to dig out the flowers.
- Put 2-3 cm grit into your container and then wedge your bulbs on top. You don't want to disturb the bulbs too much - you want them to be packed together as they will then hold each other up. The container doesn't need to have drainage.
- Cover the soil with gravel, moss or dried leaves.
- The arrangement will last longer if you can keep it cool - I compromise by having them in a heated house during the day and then on the doorstep overnight. The warmer it is the taller the flowers will get.
- Once the flowers begin to fade plant back in the garden - either directly where they came from or separate into smaller clumps.
Bulbs that like to be planted as dry bulbs (crocus, grape hyacinths, snakehead fritillaries)
The other method is to start with potted bulbs. You can either buy them from a garden centre (the outdoor bit) or you can plant your own in Autumn and thenbring them indoors. These crocus have been my favourite flowers so far this year and they were bought as pots intended for putting together a spring planter and were less that £1 a pot.
- If you are growing your own bulbs you need to plant into small pots or trays (mushroom trays work well) in the Autumn - leave somewhere sheltered but outside and protect from slugs and mice.
- If you are buying pots, look for good deals in garden centres and supermarkets - they are usually intended as spring bedding so can often be bought cheaply in bulk. My favourites are crocus and snakehead fritillaries.
- Add 2-3 cm grit to the bottom of your container and replant your bulbs into the container. Water sparingly.
- Stagger your pots - leave some in the cold and bring others into the warmth to bloom, they will respond to the heat, the ones outside will stay in suspended animation, the ones indoors begin to flower.
- After they have finished flowering you can plant them outside - they will recover but make sure they are watered for their first few weeks back in the soil. If you haven't got a garden then these make the ideal guerrilla gardening plants.
I love being able to look carefully at these tiny flowers - to see the delicate markings of the snowdrops, to actually be able to appreciate the purity of the crocus without them being splatted to the ground in a rainstorm (crocus in my garden look like litter 95% of the time because of the weather). I hope that you enjoy them too.