Winter Gardening and the Forced Bloom:
Bulb Jars and Flower Bricks
By Edward McWilliams, HCA Curator of Exhibits & C.A.R.E. Team Manager
When you mention the month “October,” do you think pumpkins, gourds, and scarecrows? I think spring flowers blooming in winter! Yes, October is the time to start bulbs indoors for wintertime blooms.
Imagine entering your home from the frigid cold outside to the scent of spring flowers in the months of December and January. Hyacinths, narcissus, and even crocus, tulips, and lily of the valley can be made to bloom indoors.
The hobby of forcing plants to bloom combines two of my interests – gardening and decorative arts. Its history dates back as early as the 18th century. This indoor gardening technique involves four different containers: bulb jars, flower bricks, bulb trays and clay pots.
Specially designed bulb jars were made by glassblowers to support the bulb on the top portion of the container just over the waterline-level. They were designed to have a wide top to “cradle” the bulb and a narrow neck for the roots to travel to the base. Reproductions are available; however, I have also used a variety of containers that can hold water and have an opening to support the bulb.
If the opening is too large, I sometimes tie four wooden skewers together to decrease the diameter, just enough to hold the bulb.
I keep the vases in a dark, cool room for about four to six weeks.
During this time the roots are developing and you may see the beginning of several leaves appear at the top of the bulb. This signals that the container should be moved to a bright, warm, sunny window to expedite growth. You will be surprised at how quickly the plant will develop.
Blooms should appear in approximately two to three weeks when brought into the light.
I find that white, blue, and yellow hyacinths produce beautiful blooms. When the plants have finished blooming I wrap the bulbs in paper towels and place them in the garage to plant in the spring. I have had success with the bulbs blooming again, sometimes the same year as being planted!
These ceramic containers are designed to hold bulbs and supports. The size of the hole will determine the type of plant based on bulb size that the container can accommodate. The process is similar to the bulb jar. Fill the container with water until the water touches the base of the bulb. As the bulb grows, monitor the water lever so that the roots always stay in the water.
Check back next week (or subscribe through the sidebar link to the right), and we will continue with Bulb Trays and Flower Pots!
So what does October mean to you? Apple cider? Baseball? Yard work?
Edward McWilliams is a Delaware native currently residing in Laurel, Del. He holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in arts management from American University. McWilliams joined HCA in 1996, was named Delaware Department of State’s Employee of the Year in 2009, and currently serves the state in dual roles as Curator of Exhibits and C.A.R.E. Team Manager.