SPRING ON DEMAND – WHEN FORCING BULBS AND PLANTS, IT’S ALL ABOUT TIMING

A FRAGRANT SARCOCOCCA HOOKERIANA BLOOMS IN THE GREENHOUSE – AN EARLY BLOOMER, THIS ZONE 7 SHRUB BLOOMS IN A COOL GREENHOUSE OR PORCH WITHOUT ANY ADDITIONAL CARE. 

KNOWN AS THE  HIMALAYAN SWEET BOX, IF I LIVED IN OREGON OR NORTH CAROLINA I COULD GROW THIS OUTDOORS, BUT IN NEW ENGLAND, IT MUST BE KEPT UNDER COLD GLASS.

Timing is everything when it comes to forcing bulbs and plants for spring shows, and it only gets more complicated if one is trying to force multiple species or more unusual plants. So the next time you visit one of those big spring flower shows like Philadelphia or Seattle – pay attention to the type of plants being forced, as this is an indication of the growers skill.

BULBOUS SMALL IRIS WILL FORCE QUICKLY, OFTEN WITHIN A FEW DAYS OF WARMTH, SO THESE POTS WILL GO BACK INTO COLD STORAGE UNTIL A WEEK OR SO BEFORE THE SHOW.

With more and more landscape service companies using the spring flower show circuit to advertise their skills to clients and fewer greenhouses and nurseries forcing plants, the entire idea of what a spring flower show is changing to and event which is more about lawn and garden maintenance and landscape service, and less about true landscape design, horticulture and gardening knowledge.

MY MUSCARI COLLECTION IS NOW READY TO FORCE, I HAVE MOVED ALL OF THE POTS ONTO A HIGHER BENCH. I THINK THAT I WILL HAVE TO MOVE THEM INDOORS TO PUSH THEM ALONG LATER, BUT FOR NOW, THEY SIT IN THE SUNSHINE. I HOPE THE DIFFERENT VARIETIES WILL END UP BLOOMING TOGETHER.

We can all grumble about the good old days of flower shows, but the reasons why these shows have evolved in such a commercial venture revolve more around the practical reasons of cost and economics (ROI)  than it does about anything else. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

HYACINTHS ARE EASIER TO FORCE, BUT THESE TOO ARE ALMOST TOO BIG FOR FORCING THIS EARLY IF I WANT THEM IN BLOOM FOR LATE FEBRUARY, SO I AM KEEPING THEM COOLER UNTIL NEXT WEEKEND.

If you see lots of Forsythia, mauve PJM rhody’s and lots of greenhouse grown azalea plants along with tulips, daffodils and supermarket primroses all swimming in yards and yards of yards wood mulch it means that very little effort into planning and even less skill was needed in forcing the plants. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the economics of managing such an immense display with fancy forced deciduous trees and carefully forced woodland plants with drifts of unusual bulbs, but these days are gone, I’m afraid.

THE LILY OF THE VALLEY ARE READY TO FORCE, WITH THEIR BUDS OR PIPS POKING OUT FROM THE SOIL.

As I plan for my exhibit at a flower show this February, I fear that my display will not be terribly interesting, but I too am learning – for there was a time when the bar was quite high at the great Eastern spring flower shows. Directors of horticulture from Holland would sometimes orchestrate the entire process here at our local exhibit at the Worcester County Horticultural Society show, but today, only a few of us have greenhouses, and even few have the means.

THE ENTIRE PAD OR SOD OF LILY OF THE VALLEY IS SET INTO A GRAPE CRATE FROM THE MARKET, AND WATERED WELL, SET INTO THE SUNSHINE ON A BENCH WHERE IT IS STILL COOL. NEXT WEEK, IT WILL BE BROUGHT INTO THE WARM HOUSE UNDER LIGHTS.

 In an effort to reinvent the idea of the great spring flower shows, I’ve helped inspire the now reinvented Worcester County Horticultural Society which is now Tower Hill Botanic Garden to attempt reintroducing a spring show. I expect that this show will start off small, but hopefully it will generate a new way to experience the magic of spring a few months earlier, without the lawn mower companies and hot dog booths.

WHILE I’M AT IT, MY SEEDS FROM NARGS (NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY) ARE SET OUT INTO THE SNOW TO BE EXPOSED TO WINTER WEATHER FOR A MONTH OR TWO. I WILL COVER THESE WITH A FLAT TO PROTECT THEM A BIT FROM BIRDS.

If you live in the New England area, consider forcing a few branches of most anything, and enter a class at the Spring Flower Show Flora in February. Success will come when a number of people become involved. And if you cannot enter this year, start thinking about next year. Start a collection potted plants that might be entered in a Potted Plant Display next February.

SOME OF MY NARGS SEED READY TO CHILL AFTER BEING KEPT WARM FOR 2 WEEKS. THIS IS NECESSARY FOR MANY WILD SEED WHICH NEEDS A COLD PERIOD FOLLOWING A WARM, DAMP PERIOD IN TO STRATIFY PROPERLY.
WE HAD A BIT OF SNOW SATURDAY, ALTHOUGH WE ARE GETTING READY FOR A BLIZZARD WHICH IS SET TO HIT THE NORTH EAST TOMORROW.

Think about bulbs that you can pot up in the fall to force, or plant interesting and rare shrubs in pots to force – it’s fun and the more who participate, the better the shows int he future will be. At the very least, pay a visit to Tower Hill and support this effort. There is nothing like a flower show to raise ones spirits when there is still snow on the ground.

FERGUS AND LYDIA ENJOY THE SNOW. FERGUS IS DOING WELL WITH HIS CANCER, THE STEROIDS ALLOW HIM TO BE PEPPY AND PUPPY-LIKE FOR NOW, BUT WE EXPECT THAT THE INEVITABLE WILL HAPPEN QUICKLY. ONE DAY AT A TIME. LIDDY IS PREGNANT, SO WITH BOTH HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME, IT’S A LITTLE CRAZY AROUND HERE – OF COURSE, WITH WEASLEY GOING TO WESTMINSTER, IT’S CRAZY.

For most people, the easiest plants to force are indeed the Dutch bulbs which we all know – starting with crocus which are the easiest and then the smaller bulbous Iris, and followed with hyacinths and the smaller narcissus. Most just require 15 weeks of cold with temps around 40º and then a gradual warm-up either under lights or on a cool, sunny heated porch or windowsill. Larger narcissus are easy too, but need more chilling time. Tulips and the lesser bulbs can be more challenging and that’s where I am currently struggling as I am preparing for a spring flower show which is being held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden at the end of February, and this whole forcing thing is causing some stress – as it is difficult to find accurate cultural information in regards to dates and forcing times.

 I once had a nice commercial book on ornamental horticulture from college which covered forcing times for everything from greenhouse crops of anemones to Easter Lilies, but trying such information on-line is challenging – thanks to bloggers (like myself!). I too need to be careful when researching cultural information, weeding through the second hand or shared information, I generally rely on commercial sites or even old books from the 1800’s, as these often provide advice for cold greenhouses such as mine.

THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR THE KIND WORDS AND SUPPORT FOR POOR FERG. HE’S GRATEFULL FOR ALL OF HIS FANS OVER THE YEARS WHO HAVE SENT THEIR THOUGHTS.

Still, I know that it will take some orchestration as I begin to force my bulbs, not that it is difficult to force any of them, but trying to time them so that they will all be near peak bloom for a specific date will require me hauling them from the cool storage to sunny and cool benches in the sunshine, and then probably up to a warm bedroom under lights, and then back to the cool greenhouse, perhaps setting them on the even colder floor to hold some back, while providing others a higher bench so that they can color-up in the mid-February sunshine – and so, the dance begins.

…AND HE LOVES HIS NEW SQUIRREL SKI SWEATER. THE OL BOY.

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