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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

LOE Garden Spot

Air Date: Week of

Sage advice from Living on Earth's resident gardening expert Michael Weishan on creating indoor winter blooms.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Not too long ago, Living on Earth's traditional gardener, Michael Weishan, gave us some tips on planting bulbs in the back yard, and that's an autumn chore. This week, as we join Michael in his greenhouse, we find him sorting through flower bulbs once again. Michael, what do you plan to do with these?

WEISHAN: Well, these we're going to actually plant inside for winter bloom, which is really a very nice thing in the middle of the winter, when it's all snowy and cold outside.

CURWOOD: Sometimes I hear people call this forcing bulbs. I mean, what do you do? You sort of take out a revolver and point it at the bulb? What?

WEISHAN: (Laughs) Pretty close. It's like grow or else. The reason it's called forcing is because we're forcing the bulbs to bloom sooner than they would normally.

CURWOOD: Okay. And what's the best kind of bulbs for forcing?

WEISHAN: Well, the best kind of bulbs for forcing are those labeled "for forcing." (Both laugh.) There's a bit of a trick to the operation because some bulbs don't force particularly well, and the easiest way for the novice to figure out which is which is simply to read the labels. They'll often say "specially good for forcing" or "not good for forcing."

CURWOOD: Can we do this with tulips?

WEISHAN: Yes, of course you can do it with tulips. Here, I'll show you how to do it. (Digs into bulb box.) Obviously we have a greenhouse so it's a little easier, but you could do this on a kitchen table or a basement work bench or anywhere. Just spread out some newspapers. This is actually a special clay pot for bulb forcing.

CURWOOD: Now, what makes it so special for forcing? It's oblong. It's shaped in an oval as opposed to round.

WEISHAN: Well, you can get more into it, so it makes a nicer display. Any pot will work, whatever, plastic, clay, whatever you have. So now I'm going to get some drainage pieces. Steve, they're right behind you in that basket there. See those big clay shards?


WEISHAN: Stand back, everybody. (Hammers) There we are. (Hammers) There's a tendency to have 10,000 of them in the garden. Every time you move around you break a clay pot, practically. So I just throw a few in the bottom.

CURWOOD: So you're careful to put them over the holes in the bottom.

WEISHAN: The point is to put them not just scattered on the bottom, but to put them over the holes. It allows the water to drain out the holes but not the soil. So just fill it out with soil; I'm using just a standard potting soil, and I'm going to fill it up about a third of the way. And then we're going to take these bulbs and we're just going to put them very close together. Just force them down in there, putting the pointy ends up. And then, nothing more than just simply covering them with soil. Now, we'll water these very heavily, and I'm going to put them outside in the cold frame so that they can sit. They need a period of cold dormancy. You could put them out on a back terrace, or on a fire escape if they let you, anyplace. A cold hallway. Anyplace where it's going to drop into the 40s. Not terrifically cold, you don't want them to freeze. But you want them to sit for 6 weeks or so and let them root. Because otherwise the tops will grow and then they won't succeed. And you'll see, when the tops start to peek up above the soil surface, it's time to actually bring them in. And then it's pretty much foolproof. You just continue right onwards as you would just with a regular house plant.

CURWOOD: Now Michael, I know, no father will pick one child over another, but what's your favorite bulb?

WEISHAN: I don't know how well this reflects on me, but I'm particularly fond of the idiot-proof bulbs, especially the paper whites. These are almost a no- brainer for forcing bulbs.

CURWOOD: Sounds like it's right up my alley, then.

WEISHAN: Yeah. It's really quite easy. As a matter of fact, you can even grow them in just a bit of gravel and water. I like to grow them in an actual pot. That shallow bulb pot over there we're going to be using.


WEISHAN: Paper whites can go in a much shallower container because there's no possibility of reusing them. Some of the bulbs that we force, like the tulips and some of these daffodils, can actually be planted outside after they're done blooming, when the weather warms up. So you want them in a deeper container where they're going to have a good soil depth and general good nutrition. Paper whites, you can plant them in anything, even gravel. The only thing to keep in mind is that unlike most bulbs, you don't bury them. You plant them so that the little tips are just protruding right out of the top of the soil. And see, that one's already sprouted considerably; they're really starting to go. So you just put them in there with their tips protruding outward, and voila. They don't have to go through a period of cold, they don't have to be set outside, nothing like regular bulbs. They're just ready to plant, put them inside your house, and off you go to the races.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you, Michael.

WEISHAN: My pleasure, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener and publisher of the magazine Traditional Gardening. If you want to find out more about gardening, try our Web site. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. And when you get there, click on the picture of the watering can.



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