Planting Spring Bulbs Now…Yes It Is Possible

by Carol Anderson, Master Gardener in Training

Can spring bulbs be planted in late winter/early spring and still bloom? The answer is yes!

Perhaps you forgot to plant your spring bulbs in the fall (as is customary and recommended), it is better to take your chances now (late winter) and plant the bulbs rather than waiting for next fall as bulbs may not survive out of the ground this long.

Regardless of your circumstance, if you have “stray” bulbs still in your possession and they have been stored properly…you can “force” (or “trick”) your spring bulbs into blooming.

Bulbs can be divided into two groups, those that require a chill period, and those that don’t. For those that do require chilling, this chill period is less than what the bulbs would experience in the ground in a typical Ontario winter.

To force cold hardy bulbs into bloom you must first encourage them to produce new roots. This is accomplished by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time. Dropping the temperature during the cooling period to mimic the shift in soil temperatures that occurs naturally during the winter is a very effective method to encourage rooting, but can only be accomplished if you have the right set up (separate refrigerator, etc…).

Regardless, a proper cooling period that is around 40 degrees F (4.5 degrees C) throughout should be satisfactory to stimulate rooting and subsequent flowering.

Here is what you need to do:

Ensure that those forgotten bulbs are still good.If they have been stored in a cool, dry and dark location (and even better in a paper bag) they should be okay. Bulbs should be plump, firm and dry. Any sign of softness or evidence of mould signals that they are likely better in the trash can.
Pot the bulbs in a well-drained potting mix according to depth requirements for that bulb. Space the bulbs much more closely than you otherwise would have (almost touching).Any pot can be used as long as there is 3-4” of soil under the bulb for rooting. It is recommended that “soil-less” potting mix is used as this allows excess moisture to drain away preventing potential growth of pathogens.
Water well and place in a cool dark spot (not freezing) for the required cooling period (see Table 1 below). Check moisture levels during this period and water if top is dry to the touch.Although the ideal rooting temperature varies, most bulbs do best if stored at 40-60 degrees F for 3-4 weeks after potting, and then 32-40 degrees for the balance of the cooling period, mimicking the actual change in seasons. However, most bulbs will do well if the temperature is maintained close to 40 degrees F for the duration of the chilling period.
Check for rooting after the recommended chilling time.Look for fleshy white roots in the bottom of the pots. Pots can stay in the cool zone until you are ready to bring them in of pot outside.
Bring the pots into the warmth/light in the house.Ideally a sunny window in a cooler room (~65 degrees F). The bulbs think that spring has arrived and will sprout and ultimately flower in ~ 2-5 weeks.
Once the bulbs sprout and flower, they can be transplanted into larger outdoor containers outside.They can also be transplanted into the garden directly at this point, maintaining the same depth
If grown in containers outside, remember that just like bulbs in the garden, allow them to completely die back (including the foliage).Bulbs need all of the energy from the stems in order to replenish and store energy in the bulb for next years growth/bloom.
Note: Bulbs can also be chilled in a refrigerator where the temperature can be turned down after 3-4 weeks to truly mimic the changing seasons. However, ensure there is no fresh fruit in the same refrigerator as the ethylene gas produced can affect flowering.

Table 1. Recommended Rooting Times by Bulb Type

Bulb TypePlanting DepthCooling Period
Anemone4 inches8-10 weeks
Crocus4 inches8-10 weeks
Hyacinth6 to 8 inches12-14 weeks
Narcissus (Daffodil)6 to 8 inches14-17 weeks
Snowdrops3 inches10-12 weeks
Tulip6 to 8 inches14-16 weeks

Keep in mind that forced bulbs planted into the garden may not bloom the subsequent year. However, in the end, it may be better to try and “trick” your spare or forgotten bulbs into blooming this spring and enjoy them rather than take the chance that they are spoiled by next Fall.

Sources: ; ;

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