Caring For Forced Freesias – How To Force Freesia Bulbs

Caring For Forced Freesias – How To Force Freesia Bulbs

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

There are few things as heavenly as a freesia’s scent. Can you force freesia bulbs like you can other blooms? These lovely little blooms need no pre-chilling and, therefore, can be forced at any time in the interior. Forcing freesia flowers indoors is a perfect way to enjoy the floral bouquet up close and personal. Even though there is no chilling requirement, there are some tips on how to force freesia bulbs that will make the process easy and allow you the benefits of a floral garden in your home.

Can You Force Freesia Bulbs?

Many varieties of bulbs can be forced to bloom inside the home. Most of them come from regions where chilling is necessary to break the bulb’s dormancy and encourage it to sprout. Bulbs from tropical regions don’t require a cold period. Freesia plants are from South Africa where they experience high heat and no freezing, which makes them perfect to grow indoors. Provided you have a good southern facing window, you can enjoy forced freesia at any time of the year.

As a rule, forcing bulbs refers to getting them to bloom in a site and at a time they normally would not be flowering. If no chilling period is required, it’s almost as simple as planting the bulb. Freesias need a full day of sunlight to flower, so the ideal time to plant your bulb is October or November when foliage can form over winter and by spring, the longer daylight hours will encourage blooms.

Choose a well-draining soil for freesia bulb forcing. Leaf mold and perlite are excellent, but any commercial potting soil should do as long as it is loose.

Container size is the next consideration when learning how to force freesia bulbs. A 6-inch (15 cm.) pot can easily accommodate 5 of the tiny bulbs and allow for the foliage growth. It may look crowded, but the proximity of the plants will help them stand as they grow.

Caring for Forced Freesias

Probably the most important aspect of caring for forced freesias is water. Keep the soil moderately moist but never soggy.

Another important step when forcing freesia flowers indoors is support. The tightly planted bulbs will self-support to some degree, but the thin stalks will benefit from additional reinforcement. Use slender bamboo stakes at planting time, set around the bulbs to form a scaffold. Willowy sword-like leaves will form first, usually about 12 weeks after planting the bulb. Once flowers appear, tie them to the stakes to help support the heavy blooms.

Choose a room with bright sun most of the day and slightly cool temperatures at night. This may be difficult when forcing freesia bulbs indoors in cold regions. In order to afford the cool temperatures, place pots in the basement under plant lights and then move them into a southern window once winter is over.

Deadhead the plant when blooms fade but move the green foliage outdoors when temperatures warm up. You can plant the bulb in the garden or allow foliage to wither and start the whole process over again. Freesia bulb forcing is a really simple process with fragrant and visual rewards.

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Forcing Paperwhites Indoors

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Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are the easiest bulbs to force indoors in water.

Photo by: Photo by Felder Rushing

One of the fastest ways to get indoors flowers in the winter—even easier than African violets on the windowsill—is by growing certain flowering bulbs in either potting soil or vases of water.

The easiest bulbs to get to flower indoors – called “forcing” – include amaryllis, fragrant hyacinth, grape hyacinth (Muscari), and members of the Narcissus tazetta group, commonly called “paperwhites.” Forcing isn’t a cruel thing, it just means getting them to grow roots, shoots, and flowering stems indoors out of season.

What Bulbs Can Be Grown Indoors?

Some spring-flowering bulbs require a chilling period to bloom while others do not. When these bulbs are planted outside during fall, the ground cools and they go through this process. But we can replicate these conditions indoors ! Bulbs that require chilling include Tulips, Crocuses, and most Hyacinths.

Other spring-blooming bulbs don’t require a cooling period. These include Amaryllis and Paperwhites. No matter which bulbs you choose, they will add a lot of beauty to your home décor!

“Whether you’re growing bulbs that require chilling or not, when the container is in a warm room in a bright spot, rotate the container every few days.”

The Gentle Art of Forcing Bulbs

Coax bulbs to flower indoors during winter, and say hello to an early spring

In the dead of winter, spring-blooming bulbs are especially welcome in the house. They can easily fill a room with a delightful perfume and remind you that spring really is just around the corner. Best of all, you don’t have to wait until the first flush of spring to enjoy these blooms indoors — you can literally force Mother Nature’s hand. The process is called forcing, but it’s really not that pushy you’re basically just tricking the bulbs into thinking they’ve been through winter, then waking them up early from within the comfort of your own home. Depending on the kind of bulbs you choose, you could enjoy your first blooms in less than 10 weeks.

You can find the bulbs listed here at most nurseries and garden centers, online, or through mail-order catalogs. Note that many bulbs require a certain amount of chilling some need to be refrigerated, others can be planted then chilled outdoors (see Forcing tips). Chilling periods given below are based on the recommendations of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

Photo by Ellen von Bodegom / Getty Images

Crocus, Hyacinth, Grape-Hyacinth, and Iris

These bulbs must be chilled. They can be forced, one bulb per jar or vase, in water alone without any soil there are special forcing jars and vases for crocus and hyacinths, but a wide container with gravel (and dense planting) will also yield lovely results.

Crocus corms need to be refrigerated for 15 weeks. After chilling, place each corm in its own water-filled crocus forcing jar or vase at around 60° flowers will emerge in about two weeks. Choose Crocus vernus in shades of purple, lavender, yellow, or white.

Hyacinth bulbs need to be refrigerated for 12 weeks. Then place each bulb in a water-filled hyacinth forcing jar or vase at around 70° flowers follow in two or three weeks. Try fragrant Dutch hyacinths in shades of blue, purple, pink, or white.

Bulbous Iris require about 15 weeks to chill, then force these bulbs in a vase of water. Expect blooms two to three weeks later. We love the clear, cobalt-blue Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ and the black and white-detailed fall on ‘Purple Gem.’

Grape-hyacinth bulbs need 8-12 weeks’ chill time plant as you would crocus, and expect faintly fragrant blooms in blue, purple, or white two or three weeks later.

Freesia and Tazetta Narcissus (Paperwhites)

Silas Yeung / Getty Images

Forcing these bulbs technically doesn’t require cold stratification, but they do need cool night temperatures and plenty of time to root before they’ll flower. They’re powerfully fragrant.

Freesia corms take about 14 weeks from planting to bloom. Plant corms in a container filled with potting soil or sand, growing them in a spot that has daytime sun and nighttime temperatures in the 40s. Look for Dutch and Tecolote hybrids in shades of purple, blue, lavender, red, pink, orange, yellow, or white

Tazetta narcissus bulbs take five to seven weeks from planting to bloom. Use any type of container that’s twice as wide as it is high. Bulbs can be completely buried in potting soil or partially sunk in horticultural sand or decorative rocks or pebbles. Whatever medium you use, water well and put the container in a cool place (40° to 50° at night is perfect) until buds show color, then bring them indoors to bloom.

Many of these narcissus fall under the generic heading of “paperwhite,” and all produce lots of flowers from each bud. Among the best for forcing are Narcissus tazetta ‘Orientalis’ (light yellow segments, deep yellow cup), ‘Paper White’ (all white), ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ (golden yellow), and an Israeli-bred series that includes ‘Galilee’ (white), ‘Nazareth’ (also sold as ‘Yael’ pale yellow segments, deep yellow cups), and ‘Ziva’ (white).

Daffodils and Tulips

Daffodil bulbs need chilling for 16 weeks bloom follows two or three weeks later. Try the strong-growing ‘Salome’ (pale yellow segments, apricot pink cup), the diminutive ‘Tête à Tête’ (all yellow), or ‘Mount Hood’ (all white).

Tulip bulbs need chilling for 14 to 20 weeks bloom follows about three weeks later. Choices range from low-growing species tulips to tall hybrids. Two of our favorites for forcing are red T. greigii (try ‘Orange Toronto’) and T. kaufmanniana, whose water lily-shaped flowers come in yellow or red (‘Showwinner’ is a superior red). Each holds its flowers about a foot high.

Forcing tips

Photo by germi_p / Getty Images

Chilling. To cold-stratify bulbs in the refrigerator, just store them in a mesh or paper bag in the crisper section until they’re ready to be forced. Throughout much of the West (except mild-winter parts of Arizona and Southern California), you can chill bulbs after planting simply by putting the pots outdoors. In very cold regions, place them in your garage, greenhouse, or cold frame in milder places, you can put them in a cool, bright part of the garden. Bulbs will root and sprout during chilling.

Containers. Shop for containers and special forcing jars and vases at garden centers and through mail-order catalogs. Tall glass vessels, like a hurricane-lamp chimney or the vase holding the tulips pictured above, do a good job of supporting spindly or extra tall flower stems you can also buy wire supports that keep stalks from leaning.

Planting. Most bulbs and corms can be put into containers almost shoulder-to-shoulder–certainly not more than 1 inch apart. Plant so that most of the bulb is buried, with just the tip poking above the potting medium. The level of the soil or sand should start out an inch below the container rim. As the bulbs start to grow, they’ll push the soil or sand up and you’ll be glad you allowed for that expansion. If you grow bulbs in soil, fertilize once with half-strength liquid fertilizer as soon as you bring them indoors.

How to Force Bulbs Indoors

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Winter is no reason for a gardener to be deprived of living blooms. And making sure you have flowers to brighten the season — including the holidays — means getting started now.

The easiest bulbs to force are paperwhites because they don't require chilling. Forcing — coaxing, actually — is the term used to describe the process that stimulates bulbs to bloom out of season. Among the most commonly forced bulb flowers are amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus, muscari and hyacinths. Certainly they are the easiest. However, other bulbs that can be forced include colchicum and miniature iris. When selecting bulbs for forcing, look for varieties that are specifically recommended.

Spring-flowering bulbs usually require a rooting period of up to 12 to 15 weeks at temperatures between 41to 48 degrees Fahrenheit to produce a good root system, which is essential if they are to be forced into flower.

Add just enough pebbles or glass marbles to hold the bulbs in place. Don't cover them. But paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) don't require the 12-week rooting period. Quick and easy to start, they'll bloom within four to six weeks of forcing and give you indoor blooms not only for the holidays but throughout the winter, if you plant them batch after batch.

Paperwhites are most often (and most easily) potted in shallow containers of gravel. Place bulbs on a layer of gravel and carefully fill in enough gravel to hold bulbs, but not cover them. A crowded grouping will be the most attractive.

Add water to the container. It should reach the base of the bulbs, but not touch the bulbs. Place container in a sunny spot, step back and watch 'em grow! You'll see roots in a day or so, and in three to five weeks you'll have gorgeous flowers.

When the bulbs have finished flowering, add them to the compost pile. Bulbs forced without soil use all their energy for that one bloom, and paperwhites, even when forced in soil, rarely revive in the garden.

How to Grow Freesias

Freesia bulbs enter their active growth phase during the fall, so this is the best time to plant them. Choose a sunny garden bed with soil that is rich but not heavy. A sandy garden loam amended with humus or compost is ideal. The bulbs are small and don’t require deep planting place them only about 2 inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Moreover, the plants look best when grouped in at least five to seven. Space bulbs about 3 inches apart, and then water the planting area well. Freesias should start blooming about 12 weeks after planting the bulbs.

Freesia stems are thin and can’t always support the weight of the flower heads, especially in varieties that produce double blooms. A grow-through staking system that has a grid to support the flowers and leaves will keep the plants upright.

Furthermore, freesia plants will appear to decline after their active blooming period. However, the plants are probably entering dormancy, not dying, so don’t discard them. Once the foliage yellows, you may trim it off.

If you live in a climate that mimics the native growing conditions of the plant, freesias are a must for a cutting garden. Cut the flowers when the first bloom on the stem is open and the rest are beginning to show color. Expect your freshly cut flowers to last about 12 days in a vase, compared with five to seven days for purchased flowers.

Chilling Bulbs

Here's the deal: Bulbs that grow indoors sometimes need a reminder that they've been through winter—however fake it is. In fact, all bulbs except amaryllis and paperwhites need a cold snap. What makes those two different? They don't get cold at home in their native tropics, so they don't need winter wherever you live. For other flower bulbs, though, you'll have to chill them a little to get them to bloom inside just how long depends on the bulb. Generally:

  • Chill in September, bloom in January
  • Chill in October, bloom in February
  • Chill in November, bloom in March
  • Chill in December, bloom in April

Bloom time: 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling

Bloom time: 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling

Bloom time: 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling

Bloom time: 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling

Bloom time: 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling

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