The 12-step method


Step #1

(I was asked for this, so figured I’d share it here, too.)

1.    Identify bulbs that will be most suitable for pot culture and purchase. Also purchase bulbs that are not at all suitable for forcing just for fun. Accumulate huge pile of bulbs in inconvenient spot.

2.    Identify pots. Try to choose more lightweight pots, where possible. Buy pots on sale. Shake head over number of ugly pots you have accumulated over the years.

3.    Evaluate soil situation. Is soil leftover from summer annuals in pots still Ok to use? If not, or if there is not enough, purchase large bags of potting mix. Avoid expensive mixes that contain fertilizer or are labeled “organic”; find cheap, lightweight mixes.

4.    Option: place empty plastic pots upside down in containers to take up space and make them lighter. Some recommend packing peanuts at bottom of pot.

5.    Fill empty pots a bit more than halfway; remove excess from pots that already have enough leftover soil. Find and discard old bulbs from last year and root masses from annuals.

6.    Place bulbs—about 20-25 per container in circular patterns. Layer daffodils on top of tulips, if you want a mix. Try to alternate contrasting tulip colors; lose track and give up.

7.    Cover top 1/3-1/2 of pot with soil.

8.    Extra step—place a round tomato/peony support at top of pot as a deterrent to squirrels. Disguise with soil. Water pots. (Oops—should have watered after moving them to the garage.)

9.    Drag pots into the garage. (Water them now—much better.)

10. Ignore for 5 months, occasionally wondering—when getting in and out of car—if they are completely frozen. They look frozen. They feel frozen.

11. Water them again in late March to wake them up.

12. Drag out the pots in early April. Water. Wait for bloom. Discover that the contrasting colors you chose really don’t complement each other as much as you thought. Realize that whatever you do, one type of tulip always blooms before the other type. Think about tulips you should have planted instead of these. But hey—they came up!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Use empty soda bottles or empty 6 packs from spring planting stacked together to fill the bottom of the pots. Drainage is good and helps lighten the pots as well.

  2. So…can anyone tell me if the soil I bought that already has fertilizer in it (0.45-0.15-0.30) will be detrimental to my tulips in my pots…I can mix it up with some leftover soil from my annual pots this summer…which should dilute it more, right? Unfortunately, I was on a strict time schedule and did not look closely when buying the soil for my pots the other day…

  3. It will work fine–I just don’t use it because it tends to be more expensive, and I don’t feel it’s needed. It should not hurt anything.

  4. Elizabeth, I am stunned that this works even if the pots are frozen solid. I thought a root cellar was necessary-somewhere the temperature was always around 40 degrees.

    Early in my gardening career, I tried leaving pots of forcing bulbs in my garage. Mushy and dead come spring. I gave up on forcing bulbs.

    Of course, I was doing this in Washington County, NY back when it got down to 30 below every winter.

    If I try this in comparatively balmy Saratoga Springs, will it actually work?

  5. It always works for me, but I would advise against small pots–I use big ones. It’s not really forcing–the bulbs are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring, when I bring them out. My forcing on the other hand, which is done in the root cellar at around 40 degrees, as you note, has blooms in February and March.

    And it only works with tulips. Hyacinths turn to mush out there.

    I think our garage, while not heated, is just protected enough.

  6. Watch out for those packing peanuts, some of them are “green” and made of cornstarch or other biodegradable materials. Boy do they make a yucky mess when they get wet.

  7. I had read somewhere to put the packing peanuts in old panty hose so they can stay cleaner. Don’t want to know how long that took to stuff into them! I resorted to either the plastic newspaper bags or bug grocery store plastic bags. I’ve filled pots and left them in my very cold (Wisconsin) potting shed but these aren’t for forcing but for setting out in spring.

  8. I’ve planted all my bulbs in the ground. Now you make me think I need to plant some using this method. I think they’d keep in my garage okay.

  9. I wear many hats—and badges!

    I was a judge at Taste of Buffalo, a big food festival the garden blogger meet-up attendees got to see 2010. It was not as much fun as you might think.

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