Potted bulbs are a colorful solution to winter doldrums

Why wait for the spring thaw to enjoy flowers, when potted tulips, hyacinths, and other colorful bulbs can brighten your home now?

Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
To enjoy maximum bloom time, don't place blooming bulb plants, such as these dwarf irises, in direct sunlight, in drafty spots, or next to sources of heat.
Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
Gorgeous red and white tulips are especially welcome in midwinter. Potted bulbs are readily available in winter and spring at supermarkets and floral shops.

Winter winds carry more than ice and snow. They also bring a blizzard of colorful spring flowers. That's because winter is the season when shops and supermarket floral departments are laden with the widest selection of fun, affordable bulb flowers in pots.

These winter wonders are largely spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths that have been brought into flower early by nursery growers using an age-old process called forcing. Forced bulbs might more accurately be called fooled bulbs, as the growers use a combination of cooling and light treatments to trick the bulbs into flowering early.

The happy results of this deceptive behavior are stocks of colorful flowers ready to be scooped up and taken home to brighten winter days. Normally sold in modest plastic pots, forced bulbs lend themselves to a variety of creative decorating ideas.

At home, they can be featured “as is” or repotted into new containers. Another option is double-potting in which the plastic pot is slipped inside a second, slightly larger and prettier pot called a cachepot (from the French word for hidden pot).

No matter how you choose to display forced bulb flowers, following some simple tips will heighten enjoyment of these colorful, midwinter bloomers:

Buy green and watch them grow. For longest enjoyment, choose potted plants with tight buds or barely open flowers, not those already in full bloom. In these plants, the flower is fully formed and ready to burst forth for your enjoyment at home. In winter, it’s just as much fun to watch the green plants grow as it is to watch the velvety flowers bloom!

Dress down or up. Potted bulbs are great displayed casually in their plastic nursery pots or wrapped in decorative foil. Or, they can easily go upscale, dolled up in myriad ways by using more decorative containers, repotting, or using the double pot cachepot technique.

To repot: Select a container that has a drainage hole at the bottom (later, place a plate or saucer below the pot to protect table tops from moisture). Transplant the bulbs by gently removing the plants, soil and all, from their nursery pot. Then simply replant into the new pot. For a more dramatic display, consider bringing home several inexpensive pots of flowers to combine by repotting into one larger container. Combining pots is a fun, easy way to creatively “garden” indoors in the middle of winter!

To double pot with a cachepot: Select a decorative container that’s large enough to hold the existing plant, pot and all. In this case the inner nursery pot provides drainage, the outer pot is for show. You can even use this technique in porous containers such as baskets, but you might want to add a plastic tray at the bottom to catch any leaks. Just make sure there's no standing water in the bottom -- that causes roots to rot.

Water potted bulbs as needed, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. To enjoy maximum bloom time, avoid placing blooming plants in direct sunlight, in drafty spots or next to sources of heat.

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our contests.

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