Let the bulbs begin


Who the hell knows what kind of winter we’ll be having in this formerly snow-identified corner of New York, but there will certainly be a few months of dormancy. This is what bulb season is for. It’s the closest I can get to real gardening (other than houseplant maintenance) during the cold months.  In this scenario, I turn fall into sort of a bogus spring planting season, ordering hundreds of bulbs that will either a., go into the ground, b., go into big pots, c., go into vases for root cellar forcing, d. go into vases for indoor growing. I can easily get through close to 1000 bulbs this way—and it would be almost twice as many if I had a big space to fill up with crocuses. (It’s really lucky for our fiscal health that I don’t.)

Bulb forcing is not something you hear much about in current gardening practice. I understand why—I suppose to many it seems fussy, old-fashioned, and maybe wasteful, as forced bulbs have limited reuse potential. Tazettas can’t be reused at all, and hyacinths will usually need a year to recover before they can grow in the ground after forcing. I know many who buy previously forced daffodils and tulips from the local botanical gardens; I don’t know how they do with them.

Nonetheless, I have been trying to get the word out about alternative ways to use bulbs. This month, I have articles in Leaf (click to read the fall issue of this digital mag) on hyacinth and tazetta forcing and in Fine Gardening (11/12 issue, which will be on stands this week) on growing tulips in big pots, which isn’t forcing but does help avoid some of the pitfalls of in-ground planting.

You may remember there was a silly promotional campaign for bulbs a few months back. I didn’t like the campaign, but I rabidly endorse its basic premise. Bulbs are cool. People should use them more.

P.S. Leaf is a much cooler mag than my little bulb how-to might lead you to believe. Be sure to browse the whole thing and don’t miss the article on corn whisky.

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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 regularly 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 yahoo.com


  1. I feel like a mere dabbler. I ordered 90 tulips and 200 crocuses this year. I’m putting all the tulips in pots. This is the first time I’m growing them that way. I just got my copy of Fine Gardening – I’ll look for your article!

  2. Yay bulbs. They are so reliable and beautiful. Everyone would be happier if they had bulbs growing in water, bulbs growing in pots, bulbs growing in the soil.
    Bulbs are cool.

  3. Elizabeth, You aren’t really forcing when you plant bulbs in pots, right? You are planting them and letting them go through their normal growth process before putting them on display?

    Last winter I did an experiment with daffodils and hyacinths. You said that you had problems before with them rotting. I kept them in the garage for a month or two and then put them outside thinking that they would be able to handle it. Nope. All of them turned to mush. The tulips could handle it, but hyacinths and daffs all croaked. This winter I will keep all the pots in the garage until spring (unless it is a hard winter in which case they will come inside on the coldest days).

  4. Yes, I find tulips handle this best. But keep in mind that anything in a pot is a zone or two colder. That’s why I wait until early April.

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