Forcing spring bulbs to bloom indoors

Add some color to this winter by forcing spring bulbs to bloom indoors and explore the science behind it.

Fall is a beautiful time of the year, but as we enjoy the last warm days and bright colors of the season, we know winter is lurking just around the corner. One way to add a little color and brightness to the dreary winter is to bring a little piece of spring into your home by forcing spring bulbs to bloom indoors. This is a simple activity you can easily do together with youth. You can even include a little science exploration while planting the bulbs. Michigan State University Extension recommends encouraging youth to make observations, ask questions and discover answers while exploring and learning about their world.

Tulips, narcissus (daffodils), hyacinths and crocus can easily be forced into bloom in late winter. Just follow these simple steps.

Only use good quality, healthy and unblemished bulbs. You can purchase these in any garden supply store at this time of year. It works better not to mix varieties in the same container since they have different bloom times.

Place the bulbs in a clean container partially filled with potting soil, then loosely cover with soil so that the tips of the bulbs are still exposed and water thoroughly. You can use any kind of container—plastic or clay is fine. If you have young people helping you, have them estimate how many tulip bulbs might fit into the container, or how many crocus bulbs? Plant your bulbs close together. Usually, you should get about six tulip bulbs, three hyacinth bulbs or 15 crocus bulbs into a 6-inch container.

Keep some bulbs out and help your group of young people cut the bulb in half from top to bottom. Have them observe and describe what they see. Did you find the flower bud, scales (thick, fleshy leaves) and basal stem holding it all together and the short, stubby roots? What might the function of each of these parts be and how does the bulb survive the winter?

Next, your bulbs will need a cold treatment of 35-48 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 12-13 weeks. You can do this by putting them into an unheated basement or attic, or simply putting them in the vegetable section of your refrigerator. In the refrigerator, cover the pots with plastic bags that have some ventilation holes punched into them.

If planted by Nov. 15, you can start taking your bulbs out of cold storage by the end of January. You may want to discuss and explore with your youngsters why the bulbs need to be in cold storage. What happens if you take the bulbs out of cold storage after four, six or eight weeks? Will they still grow and bloom?

When taken out of cold storage, place the pots in a cool, sunny location in your home for about a week. The plants need some time to acclimate and adjust to the new conditions. When shoots and leaves begin to expand, you can place your flowers into a warmer location, like your living room. Avoid direct sunlight. Your bulbs should bloom about three weeks later.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

Michigan 4-H has many 4-H science programming areas for youth to explore. Science is everywhere with many questions to ask and discoveries to be made. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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