Home & Gardens: Winter can be too long for a gardener | PostIndependent.com

Home & Gardens: Winter can be too long for a gardener

Curt Swift
Free Press Gardening Columnist
A Paperwhite narcissus.
Staff Photo |

Winter can be a depressing time for gardeners who want to be outside puttering around. At this time of year, there is not much to do outside other than cleaning up weeds and other debris still remaining from your summer activities.

Inside you can look through your gardening magazines and seed catalogs and try to pick out the vegetables and flowers you want to grow in 2014. Most gardeners order more plants and seeds than they have room for. Even the most seasoned gardeners are guilty of the belief they have more room than they actually have. This often causes frustration in the spring because you have all these young seedlings, but don’t have space.

What do you do? You can’t throw these young plants in the garbage. And your neighbors are in the same boat you are; they also have more plants than space. So, you crowd the plants in wherever there is a spot, even if that spot is too tight for the proper development of the plant.

It would be great if gardeners had a place they could take extra plants, so they wouldn’t end up in the trash. My recommendation for this winter is to only order the seed and plants you can fit.

You could use some of your pent-up gardening energy studying soil management, physiology, photoperiodism, proper pruning techniques, and other interesting topics. But who wants to do that when you could be taking a nap or reading a mystery? Skiing, snowboarding or even snowshoeing would also lessen your frustration.

Some of you will also be starting seedlings soon, even though it is still much too early.

You could however take a day and pot up tulips, daffodils, crocus and other hardy spring-blooming bulbs and corms. Some garden centers still have them available. You might even have some you did not get into the ground this past fall. Most of bulbs and corms take about 10 weeks of chilling (eight to 15) before they are ready to bloom, so this will keep you busy checking the status of the pots.

When I was at Orchard Mesa Greenhouse several weeks ago with my plant propagation class, Marcus showed us their walk-in cooler was filled with bulbs being chilled. They intended to move them out of the cooler over several weeks, allowing them to develop flowers to ship to their wholesale customers.

By removing pots of properly chilled bulbs and corms over time, they can extend the season for flowering tulips, daffodils, crocus, and similar plants.

You can do the same thing in your home. You can even place the pots outside to be chilled. Do you have a cold cellar where the temperature is between 35 and 45 degrees, or an extra refrigerator you can use for chilling? Thirty-five to 45 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature the pots need to be placed in for the bulbs and corms to receiving the necessary chilling requirement.

Even though six tulip bulbs in a six-inch pot seems quite tight to me, that is how close you need to place them. Up to 15 crocuses, grape hyacinth and other minor bulbs can be placed in a six-inch pot, too. Usually you can only fit three of the larger Narcissus bulbs in a six-inch pot and only one large hyacinth. You could also use smaller pots, but most of the forced flowers are grown in six-inch or larger pots, so there is a mass of color.

Once your bulbs and corms have received the proper amount of chilling, they will have roots growing out of the hole in the bottom of the pot and green sprouts will be emerging from the top of the bulbs. Moving the pots into a 60-62 degree room when the sprouts appear forces the plants to produce flower stalks and blooms. Colder-forcing temperatures tend to result in longer stems, which may not be able to hold up the flower. The bulbs you purchase may be pre-chilled and require a shorter time to force. In addition, cultivars may vary by as much as four weeks in their chilling requirements; consequently it would be best to use root and shoot growth as the indication as to when to move the pots out of the chilling environment.

Fun fact: You can skip all this time and trouble by purchasing Paperwhite daffodil bulbs. These do not need to be chilled. As soon as you pot them up, assuming you provide adequate water and light, they will start to grow and bloom within four to six weeks. If you are like some people I know, the scent of Paperwhites can be over-whelming, even causing people to move these pots of beautiful flowers out of the home or office where they can freeze. When that happens, the sweet scent of these flowers no longer irritates the person’s sense of smell.

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