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Upper Midwest Gardening: Force Bulbs to Bloom Early Indoors

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Even if the calendar says it is winter, you can coax spring along by forcing bulbs to bloom early indoors--great for curing those winter blues.

Tulips can bloom in winter
This is all you need to have tulips for the holidays.

It won't be long before I'll be hunkered down in subzero weather looking out over my snow-covered garden, dreaming of spring. Yes, winter can be drab and dreary. But rather than let the winter blues get me down, I'll celebrate spring with a pot of blooming tulips.

It's not easy being Mother Nature, but a little trickery goes a long way. For a pot of blooming tulips in the middle of winter, the bulbs have to be forced, which is all about timing and temperatures.

Tulip bulbs need a period of cold temperatures to trigger blooms. By planting them now and storing in a cold (but not freezing) garage, you can have a bouquet of bulbs by the holidays. The best bulbs for forcing include: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, scillas, grape hyacinths and lily of the valley.

I was so surprised to learn how easy it is to force tulips and other spring bulbs into blooming out of season. Forcing bulbs requires few supplies: spring bulbs, a pot and potting soil.

Blooming onion (allium) weaves together spring-blooming perennials and shrubs.

I simply fill the pot 3/4 full of soil, place bulbs on top of the soil and pack them in with points up. Then I add more soil so the points barely stick out. I water them well; the soil never should be allowed to dry out.

Then I place my potted tulips in the garage near the house, where I know temperatures won't get too cold or too warm--from 35 to 48 degrees. It takes about 12 to 13 weeks for the cold treatment to prepare bulbs to bloom.

For a continuous flush of flowers, I usually pot up several containers and bring them out week after week. Once the pots are brought indoors, it takes about three weeks for the bulbs to bloom with a breath of fresh spring air!

Alliums, also known as giant onions, are staples in my garden. They are the thread that weaves together spring- blooming perennials and shrubs. Starbursts of tiny lavender flowers explode on top of tall, sturdy stems. Alliums are awesome in bloom, and the dried seed heads are an attractive twist in the garden.

Hot poppies with Globermaster alliums is one of my favorite combinations.

The combination below--Globemaster alliums as a backdrop to red poppies (Papaver rhoeas)--is one of my faves and guaranteed to bring out the "aahs" from those witnessing the timing of the two in bloom. The poppies give the garden solidarity while the shimmering, airy alliums dance in the background. The two uncommon partners beg to be noticed.

What I love most about alliums is they are not finicky at all once you find them a good home. In full sun and well-drained soil, they will bloom season after season.

Planting and spacing vary among varieties, but a good rule of thumb is to dig a hole three times the diameter of the bulb. Spacing varies too, but you can place most larger allium bulbs about 6 inches apart. Place the bulb in the hole, points up, cover with soil, and water well. That's it! Feeding is unnecessary since bulbs store their own food. Luckily, allium bulbs don't smell so nice, so digging squirrels and other hungry animals will leave them alone.

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