The best gardening advice that you can get may be your own. That doesn’t discount reliable information from gardening books and magazines, or expert recommendations from your local garden center, but who else knows best about what has worked in your garden — and what hasn’t? Of course, recalling the exact variety of Lily that you planted three years ago, or when and how much fertilizer you applied to your perennial bed can be a challenge, unless you write it down. Keeping an accurate garden journal is the answer.
While it may seem like interrupting your progress to stop and record your gardening activities, you will find that this information will make you more productive and prevent future mistakes. And don’t just record your successes. In addition to noting the varieties of plants that have performed well, and that you might plant again or recommend to others, make sure to record those that disappointed you. Making a planting mistake is one thing — repeating it is really a waste of time.
Many types of journals are available — from a simple notebook to online versions. Graph paper is useful for making sketches more or less to scale, indicating the position of plants or bulbs relative to each other.
When adding a new plant to your garden, be sure to record the complete name, including the variety. While one Tomato or Coreopsis may exactly suit your taste or style, another may not. When you order plants in following years, you can use your notes to help you select varieties that suit you best, based on personal experience.
Other important information to record includes:
Source of plants. This is important if you decide you want more of the same plant or if you encounter problems with the plant.
Planting date and exact location in the yard. It’s often helpful — or just interesting — to know just how long a perennial, shrub, or tree has been growing in that space. Location is extremely important with bulbs and perennials, particularly those that are late to emerge in the spring, so you avoid inadvertently planting something on top of them. Diagrams of your garden work well for this purpose, as do pictures.
Fertilizer applications. Record the type, amount, and date. This helps you plan your next fertilizer application, and can be helpful when trouble-shooting growth problems.
Pests and actions to deal with them. Write down pests encountered and the date they appeared to help alert you to potential infestations in following years — the same pests often appear at about the same time each year. Note what you did to minimize their damage — what worked — and what didn’t work.
Flowering and fruiting times. By keeping track of when your plants bloom (or fruit), you can more easily plan for a continuous show of color in your garden. Keeping track of harvest times in a vegetable or fruit garden helps you plan for a more continuous supply of fresh produce.
Special care or comments. If a plant requires annual pruning, deadheading, staking, etc., it’s worth noting so you are prepared and can perform the task at the appropriate time. Appealing fragrances, foliage color or texture, flower color, fruit flavor, etc., are also worth recording so you can make the most of them if you expand your garden.
Adding photographs. Pictures are worth a thousand words! Taking pictures for your journal helps you remember appealing combinations as well as those that need something added or removed. Photographs of annual plantings and container gardens will help you recreate those that were most successful. Photos also help you appreciate the growth and maturity of your garden through the years. Remember, you are your best source of information for your garden — take advantage of it.
For starters, “forcing” is a misnomer because it sounds too much like work. We’re just tricking the bulbs into thinking winter is over quite a bit sooner than it is. Forcing is an easy sleight of hand that offers the soul-restoring scents and colors of spring at a time of year when spirits sorely need reviving. But you need to plant now, in autumn, to enjoy the results when the snow flies! Although we usually think of forcing Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips, many of the smaller bulbs are also extremely easy and gratifying to force: Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla, Dwarf Irises, and Anemones also will give great results.
Forced bulbs can be divided into two groups: those that require a chilling period and those that don’t. When bulbs do need chilling, what they actually require is many weeks less than typical northern winters. (See the list at the end of this post for details.)
In a nutshell, here’s what you do . . .
Force Bulbs That Need Chilling
Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool but not freezing dark spot for the required minimum time (see below), then bring them into warmth and light in the house. The bulbs think spring has arrived and quickly sprout and flower. It’s that easy — the bulbs do most of the work.
This is a great project to do with young children, if you want to invite the kids or grandkids to participate. The actual planting is a little messy, so it’s a good idea to spread some newspapers to catch any spilled soil, gather all your pots in one spot, and do all the planting at one time.
Containers and Potting Mix
You can use any pot you like to hold bulbs you want to force, as long as it allows room for root growth — about 3-4” of space below the bulbs. This is a great opportunity to showcase flea market finds and tag sale treasures, or your favorite terra cotta pots. If you choose a pot without a drainage hole in the bottom, you’ll have to water your bulbs carefully, because bulbs that sit in soggy potting mix soon will rot. Consider using a ceramic or terra cotta pot if you’re forcing tall Daffodils or Tulips. These flowers can be top-heavy when in full bloom and may topple if grown in lightweight plastic pots.
We recommend that you plant bulbs in a soilless potting mix (available at garden centers and hardware stores). A soilless mix holds moisture but allows excess water to drain away readily.
Potting the Bulbs
To pot the bulbs, begin by placing potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. This is an ideal job for a very young assistant, if you’d like to invite a child or grandchild to join the fun. Add the moistened mix to the container until the pot is about three-quarters full. Set the bulbs root-side down on top of the mix (or on their sides if you can’t tell which end is up, as with Anemone blanda). Space the bulbs much more closely than you would in the garden – they should almost touch. Then add more mix. Cover small bulbs completely with a ½” layer of mix; cover larger bulbs up to their necks, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water thoroughly after potting.
Chilling the Bulbs
To force cold-hardy bulbs into bloom, you must first encourage them to produce new roots by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time that varies by type of bulb (see listing below). The ideal rooting temperature also varies, but most bulbs flower best if stored at 40-60°F for the first 3-4 weeks after potting, then at 32-40° for the balance of the cooling period – a shift that mimics the drop in soil temperature outdoors as fall turns to winter.
The easiest way to chill bulbs is to put them outdoors and let nature do the rest. To insulate the bulbs from rapid changes in air temperature and from freezing cold, bury the pots in a pile of dry leaves held in place by a plastic tarp or in a pile of mulch, such as bark or wood chip, and cover the pile to prevent formation of a frozen crust. You also can chill bulbs in a cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one; a cold basement; or an unheated garage (provided the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing). If you choose to chill bulbs in the refrigerator, be certain there is no fresh fruit stored inside. Fruit releases ethylene gas as a natural part of its natural ripening process, and the ethylene will interfere with flower development. In locations other than a refrigerator, it may be difficult to arrange for the ideal shift in temperature described above. Fortunately, most bulbs haven’t read the manuals, and they will root beautifully if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40°F during the rooting time. Professional growers fill huge walk-in coolers with potted bulbs and control the temperatures precisely. Using an old refrigerator in a basement can deliver great results without ever touching the temperature controls.
The possible downside to outside storage has four little legs. If mice or other rodents have access to your bulbs, they will devour all but the varieties that are poisonous or distasteful to them (such as Narcissus, more commonly known as Daffodils). Protect potted bulbs with steel mesh, such as hardware cloth.
Please note that moisture is as important as temperature in the successful chilling of bulbs. Check the potting mix in the pots every few weeks and water thoroughly when the surface is dry to the touch.
Toward the end of the recommended rooting time, begin checking the pots for signs that the bulbs have rooted. If you see fleshy white roots poking through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots, the bulbs are usually ready to bloom. If you don’t see roots, give the bulbs more time in cold storage. Don’t judge readiness by the appearance of shoots from the tops of the bulbs; without roots, the bulbs won’t flower properly.
Once the bulbs have rooted, you don’t have to bring them out of the cold immediately. Most will tolerate extra chilling time, allowing you to orchestrate a succession of winter bloom.
Bringing the Bulbs into Bloom
When the bulbs have rooted, bring the pots out of cold storage and set them in a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperature stays below 65°F). Bright light will help keep the leaves and flower stems compact; in weak light, they tend to flop. You’re likely to find that the bulbs have produced white shoots during cold storage. Sunlight quickly turns them green.
Keep a close eye on the moisture needs of the bulbs as they send up leaves and flower stems. Initially, the bulbs probably won’t need to be watered more frequently than once a week (if that much), but by the time they bloom, you may need to water them every day or two.
Most bulbs will bloom 2-5 weeks after they come out of the cold, heralding spring with their bright colors and sweet fragrances. Duration of bloom varies with the type of bulb and the variety but is generally shorter than you’d expect of bulbs in the garden. Warm temperatures and low humidity indoors speed the decline of the flowers. Shifting the pots out of direct sunlight and moving them to a cool room at night helps prolong bloom.
When the blooms fade, we usually recommend that you toss the bulbs on the compost pile. If you keep them in a sunny window and continue to water them, forced bulbs can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years. Tulips rarely bloom again, but Daffodils, Crocus, and Grape Hyacinth are more likely to be worth the effort of planting.
Forcing Hyacinths Without Soil
Hyacinths can be forced in pebbles and water, or in glass jars. They still require a cool rooting period if forced this way. Special forcing glasses, in use since Victorian days, are shaped like an hourglass and keep the bottom of the bulb dry—only the bulb’s roots reach down into the water. If you are using pebbles in another type of container, place a 2-3” layer of pebbles, such as pea stone, marble chips, or river rocks, in the bottom of the bowl or pot. Set the bulbs on top of the pebbles then fill with more pebbles, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulbs exposed. Add enough water to create a reservoir for the roots, but be sure the bases of the bulbs stay above water level. If they sit in water, the bulbs will rot. Then place the container in a dark, cool area (40-50°F) for 4-8 weeks. Check the water level occasionally and add more water as necessary, keeping the water level below the bottom of the bulb. When roots have developed and leaves begin to grow, it’s time to move the bulb into a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperatures stay below 65°F). Bulbs forced in water can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years – if ever.
Recommended Cooling Period
Professionals often recommend very lengthy cold periods, but we’ve had good results at home using the minimums listed here. Remember that bulbs can keep chilling for longer than the minimum. Please note that Tulips do require the longest period to flower successfully.
Recommended Rooting Times for Cold-Hardy Bulbs
Anemone (Windflower), 8-10 weeks
Chionodoxa (Glories of the Snow), 10-12 weeks
Crocus (Spring-blooming Crocus), 8-10 weeks
Galanthus (Snowdrops), 10-12 weeks
Hyacinthus (Hyacinth), 12-14 weeks
Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata and other spring-blooming bulbous species), 10-12 weeks
Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), 8-10 weeks
Muscari (Grape Hyacinth, to keep the leaves shorter, store cool and dry for 6-8 weeks, then give 2 weeks of cool rooting time)
Each year, we ask a handful of our staff members to choose their favorite gifts from among our holiday offerings. Some select classic, tried-and-true treasures including our bestselling Canella Berry Wreath or Basket, premium Amaryllis, or fragrant Lily-of-the-Valley. Others cannot resist the lure of the new, and they select one of the season’s latest discoveries. We hope some of these favorites help you select some of your own for giving and receiving. If you have questions or could use some assistance with your shopping, email us at [email protected], phone 1-800-411-6159, or opt into live chat on our website. Order soon. Supplies of some of these gifts are limited.
Read some of the reasons these are our favorites:
NEW! Tiny Trumpets Bulb Collection “I am so excited, I cannot wait to see this bloom in my house! What a treat to see my favorite colors blooming together while winter weather is knocking at my window.” Alyson
Canella Berry Table Basket “I received it about a week before Christmas last year, watered as instructed and placed it on a corner end table in my living room. The fresh scent filled the room but was not overbearing. I left it out until March. Still not losing any of its fresh scent, I did not toss it out but put in it on a tray in a hall walk-in closet and cannot believe that after almost a year, it still has its fresh scent. I open that closet everyday just to smell it. I LOVE THIS THING.” Donna
Amaryllis ‘Aphrodite’ “This Amaryllis is a beauty; and the name speaks for itself. I love how intricate the pink-colored veining is – it looks as though it had been painted on by an artist – and it perfectly complements the snow-white petals. The light ruffled edges and double blooms are a delight!” Shantelle
Berger Pruning Saw “This saw is great. It’s easy-open, easy-close and fits nicely in a side pocket or tool apron. I used it last spring to prune back my old and very large Butterfly Bush. It cut through 4″ diameter limbs in less than 1 minute, and cut through 1.5″ diameter branches in just 10 strokes.” Mary V
As this is written in early November, it’s still too early to apply winter protection to newly-planted perennials, but it’s not too early to plan for it, if you garden in a cold-winter area (USDA Zone 6 [-10°F] or colder).
Although you might think a winter mulch keeps plants warm, it’s intended to do the opposite—to keep the ground frozen, instead of repeatedly thawing and refreezing. That freeze-thaw seesaw can heave lightly-rooted plants right out of the ground, leaving their roots vulnerable to freezing or drying out fatally. Perennials planted or transplanted in the fall are especially susceptible during their first winter.
To protect plants from heaving during their first winter, put a 4-6in layer of loose organic material such as straw, Oak leaves, pine needles, or evergreen boughs (cut into 1-2ft lengths) over the crowns after the ground freezes (generally in December here in Litchfield, Connecticut). Fortunately, after Dec. 25, there is a ready supply of Christmas trees to cut up for this purpose. Do not use bark mulch or other types of leaves, because these materials mat down and hold too much moisture over the crowns. Take care to avoid covering the evergreen foliage of plants such as Digitalis (Foxgloves) and Dianthus. Remove this winter cover gradually in spring when frosts become infrequent, usually at about the time Daffodils and Forsythias are in bloom.For these colder zones, we also recommend that you protect bulbs planted less than six inches deep. Again, after the ground freezes, apply a 4-6in covering of the same loose organic material over the bulbs. Because many of these smaller bulbs tend to bloom in very early spring, begin to remove the cover gradually in late winter or early spring—a bit earlier than you might for perennials.
An extended period of mild autumn temperatures is a boon to gardeners. The soil in most parts of the country is still plenty warm, which creates ideal conditions for settling in new plants and bulbs. The comfortable weather also means it’s a fabulous time to be outdoors in the garden getting a head start on spring. To help you make some additions to your garden (and so you can help us clear out our greenhouses and the warehouse), we’re offering 20% off all fall planted bulbs and garden plants. Quantities are limited, so please order promptly. This offer ends Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. Please use Coupon Code FALL20 when checking out online to activate the savings, or mention this code if you call to place your order. Discount prices will be reflected in the shopping cart during checkout. Please note, gift certificates are excluded from this sale. Click here to shop all fall plants on sale.