Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

BOULDER COUNTY – Readers, the time has arrived to head out to garden centers and purchase a little pick-me-up for the mid-January blahs. A growing shoot is the right prescription for green thumbs pining for spring but it takes a little planning and action now. But all you need is a little shopping, a clean pot, sterile soil, and room in the refrigerator.

Forcing bulbs is a fun, inexpensive way to add a touch of the garden in a mid-winter home, and garden centers have an assortment of fun bulbs to choose from.

Bulbs that stand up to forcing are the hardy ones, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus. To get them to grow and flower, they need several months of cold temperatures, so clear out the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. Pot them in their container before you chill them; this helps keep them from drying out, gives roots a place to roam, and saves you time later when you pull the pot from the fridge to warm up.

Put the bulbs in a squat container with drainage holes at the bottom. Don’t worry if the pot isn’t as decorative as you’d like, you can double-pot it when you pull it out to enjoy. Just make sure the pot holding the bulbs has plenty of drainage.

Different bulbs require more or less space, but good rules of thumb when planting are:

Forced bulbsFor tulips, plant three bulbs per 5-inch pot. Hyacinths need a bit more room, so pop three to four bulbs in a 7-inch pot. Cover tulips and hyacinths with just enough soil so that their tips show above the soil.

Daffodils are also spaced three to four per 7-inch pot, but are planted more shallowly; let half of the bulb to show above the soil.  Smaller bulbs like crocus or grape hyacinths can be placed five to seven per 7-inch pot, buried one inch below the surface.

The number of weeks spent chilling varies a bit with each bulb, but in general, plan on 13 weeks at 40 to 48 degrees. Although crisper drawers in refrigerators are ideal, the bulbs must be kept away from fruits and vegetables that give off ethylene gas, which prevents flowers from forming. If your fridge is too small or full for bulbs, consider purchasing pre-chilled bulbs a bit later in the winter and potting these up.

Moisten the soil before popping it in the refrigerator and cover the pot with a plastic bag to hold moisture in. Punch a few holes in the bag to let the bulbs breathe to avoid disastrous mold from forming. Don’t be alarmed if the bulbs send up a few yellow shoots – they’ll green up after sunlight hits them.

Pull the pots from the fridge around January 17. Slide them into a decorative outer container.  Moisten the soil and place the pot in a cool, sunny room at 50 to 60 degrees until the shoots and leaves begin to grow, about one week. Then move to a warmer location but avoid placing in direct sunlight. In three to four weeks the bulbs will flower.

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail or visit

[su_note note_color=”#ddedf6″]Become a Master Gardener
The Colorado State University Extension’s Colorado Master Gardener program is currently taking applications for the spring class. If you are interested in helping others garden, the program is for you! Classes run January through early April and will be held every Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please call 303.678.6238 for an application.[/su_note]