Friday, March 20, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Forced Bulbs

Assorted Bulbs Spent Daffodils

Left: Assorted bulbs; right: Spent daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. obvallaris).

In the world of horticulture, the threshold between late winter and early spring is synonymous with forcing bulbs. Even if you don’t force your own, chances are you have received a pot of forced bulbs as a gift. Either way, you’re probably wondering what to do with the bulbs once the flowers have finished blooming. Many people discard them. However, with a little effort and luck, you can enjoy most forced bulbs well into the future.

“Forcing” spring bulbs is an unnatural practice that drains an enormous amount of energy from the bulb. For this reason, the future flowering of the plants is uncertain. You will not be able to force them again the following season. However, many of these bulbs are good candidates for naturalizing outdoors, and may again flower well in one to three years. To ensure healthy plants for the future, cut back spent flowers to prevent them from setting seed. At this point, the plant should be kept moist and stored in a cool but sunny space until the foliage dies back naturally. Photosynthesis should be encouraged. The longer the leaves stay green, the more energy the bulb will have, contributing to the overall health of the plant. Once the foliage has died back, the bulbs may be removed from the soil and wiped clean. They should be stored in a cool, dry environment until planting. The ideal time to plant the bulbs is late summer into early fall.

Most of the forced bulbs that decorate the interior of The Cloisters eventually find their way onto the outside grounds. Some, such as Fritillaria meleagris (checkered lily) and Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. obvallaris (daffodils) are planted in the orchard and wildflower meadow. These areas, located over the wall of Bonnefont Herb Garden, are designated exclusively for medieval species. The non-medieval species, including Hyacinthus orientalis, Crocus chrysanthus, and Crocus tommasinianus may be planted in other areas on the outside grounds.

—Kevin Wiecks

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