One Way Or Another, I Will Have Flowers

– Posted in: Experiments, How-to, What's up/blooming

Last month I told you about my failures forcing paperwhites. The first batch, packed into a narrow container that fit on the windowsill, blasted almost all their buds. My hopes were then pinned on the second batch, which I thought would bloom in time for Christmas. But they didn’t.

paperwhites in face mugs

These paperwhites are taller than their last picture, but aren’t close to blooming. Why?

I was watering them with a mixture of alcohol and water. Perhaps that stunted their growth too much? Maybe it was inconsistent watering? After all, I can’t see the water level. Or just plain not enough room for root growth?

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

On December 16th, I potted up my final batch of paperwhites, this time in potting soil. Lacking any more window space, I put them down in the 50°F(10°C) basement, under my seed starting lights and on the heat mat.

I raised the lights several inches above the bulbs, but on January 4th I noticed they had grown right up into the lights. Imagine my surprise when I raised the lights and discovered they had been blooming right up against the fluorescent bulbs.

Wintersun paperwhites in soil

The short blooming flower stalks were pressed up against the lights. The taller ones grew up and around the reflector shield.

But hey, they grew and bloomed.
Wintersun paperwhite closeup

Hallelujah! This is what I’ve been waiting for!

I will certainly try that next year, checking on them more frequently. Stronger light, cooler temps, bottom heat, potting soil, no alcohol. And the ones in the face mugs still haven’t bloomed. I’m going to put them under the lights today and see what happens, because I’m kicking them off the glass shelf to make room for…
hyacinths on glass

…the hyacinths that it’s time to force.

Yes, their ten weeks of chilling are up–and just in time, because the potting soil paperwhites are just about done blooming. I’ve been hogging precious refrigerator real estate to make sure the hyacinths get the chilling they need. I’m just never sure the basement will stay consistently between 40°F(4.4°C) and 50°F(10°C), which is what they require. The one that’s already showing buds is a gift from a friend, purchased at Aldi’s. How they get theirs to bloom so much earlier is a mystery to me.

Pay someone else to grow them

If I hadn’t remembered to order hyacinths bulbs, or if they had all gone moldy in the refrigerator, I would not have hesitated to purchase some at Aldi’s or any other place I could find them. Winter is a battle to keep your sanity and you should avail yourself of every (legal) means available to win the fight. Certainly you should not limit yourself to forced bulbs!

primrose from store

My husband was kind enough to gift me this sweet pot of primroses from the grocery store.

The nice thing about these primulas is that they are winter-hardy. As long as I can keep them alive through the rest of the winter, I can plant them out this spring and enjoy them in springs to come. My husband appreciates their wonderful scent, but I really can’t smell much of anything. That makes me a little bit sad, because fragrance is one of the things I treasure about flowers. Our family is divided: some can smell the primrose fragrance, and others can’t. How about you?

Meanwhile, in the Cabin Fever Bed…

hellebore November 10

One Helleborus niger is attempting to bloom. This was November 10th.

hellebore December 21

Some elongation of the stem by December 21st

hellebore January 2

Be still my heart! Has that bud actually opened a bit? January 2nd. And methinks I see two other buds!

The common name for this plant is Christmas rose, but clearly that ship has sailed and I might actually see open flowers by March. The plants have a light covering of snow right now, and with 8 to 12 inches(20.3 to 30.5cm) predicted for this weekend, I don’t expect to see any more progress in the near future. But at least I know there is a future!

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

KL January 21, 2019, 9:28 am

I agree that we gardeners have to keep our sanity during the winter months. That’s why I also do lots of things in my basement and about which I will write later in my blog.

Why were you using alcohol? Does alcohol helps in sprouting? Ah! lovely flowers and I can already smell your hyacinths and paperwhite.

I can smell primrose but at the same time I know that many of the commercials primrose don’t have any fragrance.

Kathy Purdy January 21, 2019, 10:11 am

Hi, KL. A mixture of alcohol and water is supposed to keep the stems shorter without hindering blooming. Where I mentioned the alcohol the highlighted words are a link to a website explaining the research.

Maria January 18, 2019, 6:58 am

Congratulations! That is super fun!

I appreciate all these ideas for how to keep working with plants through the winter. I don’t have any houseplants because I find that I don’t water them at all consistently, but forcing bulbs seems like a smaller commitment for me to try.

After reading your site for a while, I’m intrigued with hellebores. Do you have a recommendation for an easy one to start with? I’m in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, zone 4b with a short growing season and a lot of snow. Thanks!

Kathy Purdy January 18, 2019, 12:55 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post, Maria. The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is hardy to Zone 4. Many people consider it harder to grow than the Lenten rose (H. x hybridus) because the Christmas rose is a bit fussier about soil. It likes a lot of organic matter, like rotted leaves. But if you take care of the soil, they aren’t fussy at all. Many of the plants in the Helleborus Gold Collection (HGC) are hardy to Zone 4. They are sometimes sold as potted plants in a grocery store, in the same place you would find poinsettias. You can read about the hellebores in my Cabin Fever Bed for more ideas. And keep in mind that hardiness is a moving target, because there are a lot of factors involved in whether or not plants survive the winter. Your heavy snow cover might insulate the Lenten roses (rated to Zone 5) enough that they will come back every year. Certainly if a local fellow gardener offered you a hellebore, that would be a good indication that it would do well in your garden, too. When I started this website I was a zone 4b myself, but we haven’t seen a winter quite that bitter in a long time, and the last time we did, I wasn’t growing many hellebores, if any.

Lea's Menagerie January 17, 2019, 9:39 am

Beautiful blooming bulbs!
And I agree with you – flowers from the grocery store are wonderful to help us get through the winter.
Have a great day!

Lisa at Greenbow January 17, 2019, 8:31 am

I have never heard of adding alcohol to water for forcing bulbs. Hmmm???
I didn’t force anything this year. A slow year for me. I love those primroses. I don’t remember smelling them. They don’t last through our heat and drought times. Fun to see those cheery blooms during winter though.

Carol January 16, 2019, 10:05 pm

A lovely showing for bloom day!

commonweeder January 16, 2019, 1:18 pm

2 of my Christmas cactus decided to take the year off and the amaryllis are dawdling, so I just added some paperwhites and crocus. We’ll see if I am too late.