Lowenfels: Start forcing tulips and daffodils

Jeff Lowenfels

No matter what time of year, there are always gardeners with questions. I get more, in fact, during the winter months than in the summer. I guess gardeners just sit and think about things more during the winter months.

Whatever the reason, let's start with one question from a reader who has some great plants that should be flowering but are not. People who ask me about this issue invariably swear their plants are all grown using lights in the winter and look healthy but never seem to bloom.

I could be wrong, here, but I am going to suggest that healthy plants that don't flower may be negatively impacted by the very supplemental lights I insist everyone use during the winter. There are a whole host of plants that do best if just left to endure the natural daylight and all its variances, and most people don't mimic these with their lights. These flower based upon the changes in day length. Poinsettias come to mind as do epiphyllums (so-called ornamental cacti, e.g. Christmas cactus), jasmine plants, camellias -- well frankly, the list is too long. If you have a plant that does well but won't flower, try searching the web for its day length preferences.

This is not to say that such plants won't benefit from artificial light. Indoor growers should adjust the hours of their lights to simulate, somewhat, the seasons. Thus shorter in mid-winter and then increasing every month through June.

Next, is it time to get the tulips and daffodils out of storage?

Absolutely, by my calculations. It's been 14 weeks or so since I gave the "how to" on forcing, so it is time to bring out any bulbs you may have tried. Wait much longer and we will have outdoor bulbs in bloom, so why have bothered? First, water them lightly and then let them green up and grow out in natural light. You shouldn't have to water again until you see an inch or so of green growth and even then, keep it light so the bulbs don't rot. Finally, cool temperatures will emulate nature. Move them into warmer temperatures once they green out; between 40 and 50 degrees is ideal.

Hard to believe this one is coming in, but several have asked if it is time to start fuchsia cuttings and some even want to know about tuberous begonias.

Tuberous begonias can wait a month or so. It is too early to start them unless you have tons of room. Fuchsia are a different story. You can start cuttings anytime time in February and early March and get usable-size plants for this summer. If you don't want to start your own, some local nurseries sell started cuttings.

When you use your own plants for cuttings, make sure each cutting has at least three pairs of leaves. Take the bottom set off and place the cutting in damp sand or perlite covering the spot where the removed leaves were. Some folks use rooting hormone and swear the plants root quicker and with a higher success rate.

Keep fuchsia cuttings in plastic bag "greenhouses" until they root. This usually only takes a week to 10 days, especially if you use an indoor seed mat to provide bottom heat.

After they root, you shape plants by pinching them back every few weeks. This will induce branching. If you want to make a "standard" or tree-style plant, do not pinch and tie it to a tomato stake as it grows.

Finally, several readers want to know if it is just as good an idea to start edible peas now since we know doing so with sweet peas gives great results.

The idea behind starting sweet peas so early is that they flower earlier, up to a month or more. There is no reason why this won't work with eating peas. As with the sweet peas, they will need to be pinched back to keep them from taking off, up and over. I tried this last year and would only suggest that you pinch back less than the sweet peas so the plants get bigger. This means you have to have some support and a bit more room if you want to start yours early. Also, cooler temperatures are in order, 50 degrees being ideal.


Jeff Lowenfels is author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web." Contact him at teamingwithmicrobes.com.



Jeff Lowenfels