I’M READY FOR SPRING BUT IT’S STILL TOO EARLY TO FORCE THOSE BULBS

Can you guess what this plant is – – It’s a Cymbium elegant ( see photo of it at the end of this post- it’s terrific!). I noticed it in bloom while relocating pots of bulbs in the greenhouse so that I can force them for an upcoming flower show in February – will I have enough time to force 100 pots?
I am so eager for spring to arrive now, (maybe because it is not really snowing this year), or perhaps it’s just because of last week’s fridgid record breaking cold blast – regardless of why, I thought for some reason that my spring bulbs should come out and be forced, after all, Iv’e often had luck forcing the smaller Iris reticulate and crocus species just after the New Year. 
After checking on my pots of bulbs (which have been chilling in cold storage under the benches), I was encouraged, as I could see that some were beginning to emerge – those little green noses poking through the soil which looked so hopeful that I relocated most of my bulbs which were potted on October 11, 2014 and allowed to root slowly throughout autumn until being placed in total darkness and cold temperatures until now (40º or less)- it all seemed to be going so well – until I did some homework. Counting the weeks from when I planted them I realized that I had made a common and grave mistake – I took my bulbs out of cold storage three weeks too early.
I SET MY BULBS WHICH HAVE BEEN CHILLING SINCE OCTOBER OUT ONTO A BENCH TO FORCE. THEY LOOK HEALTHY, BUT I LATER DISCOVERED THAT I AM FAR TOO EARLY TO START FORCING MOST OF THEM.

So back they went into the cold darkness for a few more weeks until I remove them to warmer temperatures (gradually, so that they adjust) around January 26th. You see, most hardy bulbs require at least 14-16 weeks of cold temperatures, just above freezing so that they will force well. Sure, I could have removed these bulbs now, and many would have bloomed eventually, but much can go wrong, depending on the species and selection. Hyacynths are more forgiving, as are crocus, but the larger narcissus could actually talk longer to force when removed prematurely, as I discovered in the past, pots removed in early January sprouted, but the pots removed around February 6 caught-up and the surpassed the earlier bulbs blooming two weeks sooner in the end.
Tulips are notoriously fussy about forcing, with the early tulips and Darwins being a little more well behaved than the late varieties which I just don’t bother with at all, I never remove tulips until 16 or 17 weeks in cold storage. Much can go wrong with their flower buds not extending far enough out beyond the foliage, and many will just abort if forced too quickly.
THESE NARCISSUS FROM LAST YEAR WERE TAKEN OUT OF COLD STORAGE IN MID JANUARY, AND THEY BLOOMED HERE ON VALENTINES DAY. NARCISSUS SPECIES CAN OFTEN BE FORCED EARLIER
Once removed from cold storage, potted bulbs must be careful coaxed into believing that it is truly spring, so although they will need to be forced into full splendor indoors ( under lights) for my needs, where it is a balmy 68º F., they must first be gradually introduced to moderate temperatures in the cold greenhouse (or if you are forcing in your house, the coolest spot you can find). Pots of many bulbs when removed to force for a spring flower show or display should bloom quickly, in 2 -3 weeks. If it takes longer, then you removed them too quickly.

TULIPS ARE MORE DIFFICULT TO FORCE WELL, THEY DO BEST WITH MORE THAN 16 WEEKS OF COLD TEMPS IF YOU CAN DO IT. 

AN UPCOMING GARDEN PARTY IN JANUARY? YES!

Joe and I are hosting the American Primrose Society next Saturday – it’s our annual Primula Society Winter Luncheon Bash, which of course, will includes walks through the greenhouse and lots of plant chat, as this fabulous group of friends and plant professionals and enthusiasts are essential all plant geeks.  There is nothing like a little garden tour in the middle of winter we discovered. Snow, hearty ski-lodge type food, and then our meeting to plant the spring Primrose show. It’s always so popular that it seems that we get more and more people ( and new members) every year.

I AM FORCING A COLLECTION OF MUSCARI, EVERY SPECIES AND SELECTION THAT I COULD FIND – NEARLY 25. MUSCARI, or GRAPE HYACINTHS PRODUCE FOLIAGE EARLY, SOMETIMES EVEN EMERGING IN THE AUTUMN WHEN OUT IN THE GARDEN. BUT NOW, I HAVE RELOCATED ALL POTS BACK INTO THE COLD.
THESE HYACINTHS MIGHT HAVE BEEN OK, BUT MOST BULBS ARE NOT YET READY TO FORCE, NEEDING AT LEAST 3 MORE WEEKS. WHEN READY, THEY WILL ONLY NEED ONLY 2-3 WEEKS OF TEMPERATURES AT AROUND 68º F TO FORCE, AND TIMING IS EVERYTHING SINCE I NEED THEN BUDDED BY FEB. 20.

You may be wondering why I am attempting to force so many bulbs? I am planning to set a display at the new Spring Flower Show at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden and I need enough to fill a 12 foot table (we’ll see how that goes! So much can go wrong when trying to time bulbs to be blooming on a specific day!). I almost screwed it all up by removing those which were teasing me with their early emergence – so tempted to force just a couple of Iris reticulate for myself, but nah…..I need them all as surely I will mess up when I do try to force everything for a particular date.

I ONLY LOST A FEW PLANTS WITH OUT FREEZE THIS WEEK, MOST OF THEM PELARGONIUMS OR GERANIUMS, BUT A FEW SURVIVED, SOME, EVEN IN BLOOM.

Timing what you force so that it will bloom on a particular date is a real skill few have. I remember working at the old Worcester County Horticultural Society back when I was in High School where we used to also set up a display in my horticulture class, our instructor would take us to local greenhouses and large nurseries who were also forcing full sized trees and shrubs for the New England Flower Show which was held in Boston around the same time. Many of these nurseries would be forcing trees and landscape material along with perennials and bulbs in different greenhouses. I would watch them move pots from warm bottom heated benched which sped them along, to chilly spaces near the glass or on the floor to hold them back.

I WAS A LITTLE SAD TO SEE THAT THIS BUDDLEA ASIATICA FROZE, AS IT USUALLY PROVIDES FRAGRANT FLOWERS THROUGH THE COLDEST MONTHS, BUT I BELIEVE THAT THE TRUNK IS STILL GREEN. THIS PLANT IS PLANTED IN THE GROUND.

Other forcing tricks included constructing plastic tents around benches that had rhododendrons and azaleas on them, to keep the inside warmer, and to provide more humidity so that their thick buds would open. PJM and Rhododendrons were easier than let’s say lilacs or Dog Wood trees, the real skill awards went to the few specialist nurseries with the talent and skill to force an elm tree which was 24 feet tall into full bloom, or a magnolia species. Larger trees were common then in such displays, as were lawns which were forced and then cut with lawnmowers, and unusual perennials. Points were taken off if one only created a display with the easiest plants to force – forsythia, small azalea and rhododendrons – and then the gaps filled in with commercial greenhouse stock such as florist azaleas, primroses and then more mulch than you can imagine.

Today, sadly, this defines most of what one sees at Spring Flower Shows – more ‘Lawn and Garden” shows than about the art of forcing unusual and interesting specimens. Yes, it was costly, sure, the audience probably doesn’t know the difference, but somehow, I feel that we lost something.

THE VELTEIMIA BRACTEATA ‘LEMON FLAME’ WHICH WERE FROZEN HAVE BOUNCED BACK WITH LITTLE TO NO HARM. EVEN THE BUDS LOOK LIKE THEY SURVIVED.

HOLIDAY PLANTS HAVE BEEN MOVED BACK INTO THE GREENHOUSE WHERE THEY CAN ENJOY THE DAMP, COOL CONDITIONS.

EVEN A SINGLE VIOLA ODORATA CAN SCENT THE GREENHOUSE LIKE VIOLETS. I ALWAYS ASSOCIATE THIS UNIQUE SCENT WITH WINTER GREENHOUSES.

AND LOOK WHAT ARRIVED IN THE MAIL TODAY – MY NARGS SEED ORDER. ONE OF THE FINEST BENEFITS OF BEING A MEMBER OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY. TWENTY FIVE CHOICES IN THE FIRST ROUND, AND THEN THERE IS A SECOND ROUND – WITH MANY WILD COLLECTED SEEDS FOUND NO WHERE ELSE.

Thankfully, we are having a sunny break here in New England, and even though the temperature outside the greenhouse remains below 20º F, inside, the sunshine warms the air near 70º.  Spending a day working in a greenhouse in January is something one can hardly complain about – the scent of soil, the simple joy of turning on a hose and getting a little wet, the moist, cool air and the sweet fragrance of whatever is in bloom offers a contrast so rare when the air outside is essentially dry and hostile. After the big freeze and associated drama this week, I spend a few hours rearranging plants and repositioning some benches which had to be moved for the workmen, when I discovered a surprise – a beautiful Cymbidium elegans in bloom. This, made my day!
Cymbidium elegans
Cymbidium elegans is a species more likely found is the collection of a serious orchid grower than at a retail store, as it is not easy to find ( Santa Barbara Orchid Estate has a few, and it’s where I purchased mine a couple of years ago – this is the first time it has bloomed.). Unlike most Cymbidium species, this one, which comes from Northern India, Nepal and Bhutan, has blossoms with a unique form, as they don’t open completely. They look like lemon colored bells,  appearing more like a limp tuberose stem than an orchid. This species has a light fragrance, and pendant floral scapes when the plant is mature.

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