Bulbs such as narcissi and hippeastrum can be bought in flower, but it is easy, and far cheaper, to grow them from bulbs.
Spring-flowering bulbs are available to buy from garden centres from late summer onwards. Try to buy and plant your bulbs as soon as they become available. This will give them the longest possible time to grow and establish. Bulbs can deteriorate in dry storage conditions, so the quicker you can get them into the ground, the better.
The first thing to check when selecting bulbs is how firm they feel. Any that are soft may have rotted. Have a visual check for dark or discoloured areas that could indicate rotting. The bulb should be covered by a complete skin, with no splits or tears in it. Look at other bulbs and check that yours are no smaller than average - the larger the bulb, the greater its flowering potential.
It is important always to use pots with good drainage, as your bulbs will rot It they are exposed to too much constant moisture. Place crocks in the bottom of pots to ensure that drainage holes do not become blocked by the growing medium.
Planting Garden Bulbs
Cover the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot in which your bulb is to be planted, with crocks, and fill the base of the pot with compost. Place the bulbs on the compost. As a general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth of two to three times their own length in order to ‘take’ successfully. Fill the pot to within 2.5cm (1 in) of the top of the pot. Finally, water the pot thoroughly.
Place pots of hardy bulbs such as narcissi and hyacinths in a sheltered spot outside and keep them watered throughout winter and early spring. Shoots will emerge in spring followed by flower buds. Bring the pots indoors just before the flowers open. They will perform best in a cool room with plenty of light. In a warm room, the flower stalks can elongate and make the plant top heavy. This method will produce flowers at about the same time as similar bulbs in the garden. If you want bulbs to flower earlier, you will have to force them.
After flowering, plants can be put outside again. It is important to keep watering and feeding the bulbs after they flowering has finished, and until the foliage dies down completely. This will feed the bulbs and ensure a good display of flowers the following year. Once the foliage has died down, remove the bulbs from the compost, cut off the dead foliage, clean the bulbs and leave in a cool, dry place until the following autumn.
Planting & Growing Flower Bulbs : How to Force Tulip Bulbs
How to Force Bulbs for Early Flowering
There are several ways of forcing bulbs so that they flower early. Simply growing them in pots in a greenhouse will produce flowers a few weeks earlier than those grown in the garden.
You can also buy specially prepared bulbs from the garden centre that are designed to flower early for holiday periods. The bulbs are available at the same time as normal for flowering bulbs, but they should be treated differently. Plant the bulbs in a container and water in, and then place in a cool, completely dark spot outdoors for about ten weeks. Keep the container moist during this time. You will need to move the bulbs indoors about four weeks before you want them to flower. Small shoots should have appeared. Place the container in a cool, bright place. Flower buds should appear after a few weeks. Continue watering throughout this time and turn the pot regularly to prevent all of the shoots growing towards the light.
After flowering, forced bulbs will be exhausted and will not flower the following year. Throw them away or plant out in the garden, where they will flower again a few years later.
Convallaria (lily-of-the-valley) can be forced to provide pretty fragrant flowers for Christmas – at least in the northern hemispere. Buy crowns that have been prepared for forcing, plant just below the surface of the compost and place the container in a warm, dark place for one week. After this, place the container on a cool, sunny windowsill. The plants should flower between two and three weeks later.