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(MCT)—Pots of pretty spring-flowering bulbs can be part of your home’s indoor and outdoor decor, with or without a yard.

It’s all about the planting method you choose this fall.

For the holidays and wintertime cheer, you can force potted bulbs into early bloom, and use them for decorations or give them as cheery gifts.

Or, you can plant bulbs in large containers with ample drainage holes, place them outdoors where they won’t freeze and wait for the color show to happen early 2012.

“When plants are in containers, the color can be moved around where it’s needed,” says Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a mail-order bulb warehouse in southeastern Virginia.

“Sometimes, they can be put in the garden, other times on the deck or on either side of the front door. They can even be used as table decorations.

“When they stop blooming, the bulbs can be planted in empty spots in your garden.

“If you don’t have a garden, you can recycle them by giving them to a school, church, library or a friend.”

Forcing Bulbs into Bloom

Most spring-flowering bulbs can be forced by following a few small steps, according to Heath.

“Just remember that horticulture is not an ‘exact science,’ and that temperature, humidity, light and even refrigerators can sometimes be different, giving different results,” she says.

“Fortunately, plants can be forgiving of imperfect humans—just relax, experiment and enjoy.”

– Using pots with drainage holes in the bottom, place the bulbs in a pot three-fourths filled with potting soil; cover necks of bulbs with 1 inch of soil or gravel. Potting soil should be a coarse growing mix, which is available at your local garden center.

– Water pots and allow them to drain.

– Place in a cool area—about 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit for one to two weeks until fully rooted. Then, reduce temperature to 35-45 degrees for 12-16 weeks. There are a variety of ways and means to achieve this cool period, including:

a. In a refrigerator, an old-fashioned one is best, however if frost-free, place pot in it in the hydrator. Take out any ripening vegetables or fruit, because they will produce ethylene gas, which may cause bulbs to abort their blooms — or better still, use the “beer fridge” in the garage.

b. In a foam cooler in an unheated garage. The cooler keeps the bulbs at a relatively constant cool temperature — or in a garbage bag or box surrounded with foam peanuts

c. Buried outside under a high pile of leaves/mulch — at least 6-10 inches deep—preferably on the north side of a building in the shade.

– Check on the inside pots every other week. If soil appears very dry, you may want to water lightly. When sprouts begin forming on top, they should be about ready to be brought into the forcing environment.

– If you are forcing bulbs for fun, just put the pots in a sunny location where you can enjoy them while they bloom. This should take anywhere from two to four weeks. Water only as needed, making sure not to drown them.

– For those who need blooms on a specific date, there is a little more work to do. To control the rate of growth, you must take into account:

a. Light. During fall, winter and early spring, there is less light than what the bulbs want. You should supply additional cool light in the form of fluorescent or ‘grow lights’ very close, within 1 foot, of the merging foliage. This prevents the plant from getting too tall and eliminate the need for staking.

b. Bottom heat. Bulbs grow faster if bottom heat is applied. Ideally, potted bulbs should be placed on heating mats, available from greenhouse suppliers. If not available, a food warmer, refrigerator top or freezer top can be used, just as long as some heat is produced. A cool environment 50-60 degrees F. is the ideal room temperature.

– If foliage and blooms appear to be maturing too quickly, take them away from the bottom heat, and place them in a cooler environment but keep the light plentiful.

-When they have finished blooming, continue to water as a houseplant. When spring arrives and there is no longer danger of hard freeze —below 25 degrees F—they can be planted outside, bulbs, roots and all, in the garden.

Or, if you bought bulbs already pre-cooled dry (without the pot and soil), pot them just as soon as you receive them because the pre-cooling effect lessens each day they are out of the cooler. Once potted, water well and let drain. Then, put them in a dark 50-60 degree F. area for a couple of weeks to encourage the roots to develop. Once rooted, you may bring them out to a sunny location, following the suggestions above.

©2011 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)