Gardening for Newbies Growing Bulbs Indoors
Just imagine a cold, bleak winter’s evening, with the wind blowing outside, and howling all around the chimney like a hungry wolf. You have not seen the sun for quite a long time, because it has been snowing cats and dogs for the past couple of days or perhaps weeks, depending on your locality.
And suddenly your eyes light up on some plants growing indoors, and blooming away in colorful abundance and profusion. These spring flowers are growing in the winter, indoors, right inside your house.
For an avid gardener, not knowing anything about growing bulbs, both indoors and outdoors is about on par with a keen fisherman not bothering to keep in touch with the prime locations where he can catch tarpon, salmon and other amazing catches.
But for a newbie knowing nothing about gardening, and going into it for the first time, what is all the fuss about bulbs? If you have herbs like garlic, onions and shallots an integral part of your daily cuisine, these bulbs are grown with cloves of garlic planted in the soil, and the lily family plant bulbs planted in the spring to give you a delicious herbal harvest within a couple of months.
Also imagine a world without Narcissus, lilies, crocuses, daffodils, gladioli, tulips, snowdrops and hyacinths. All of these have grown from bulbs, instead of from seedlings, seeds or cuttings. So as your new project, and enjoyable future occupation, that of growing bulbs indoors, and making it a lovely fascinating pleasant place with lilies blooming inside, and garlic, spreading its own individual aroma in the kitchen, this book is going to give you some easy to follow DIY tips and techniques on how you can do that without growing bored with the complete long, tedious, boring procedure. It isn’t necessarily so!
You may not believe it, but these bulbs have taken over a full flower box, on one windowsill and they started out as just 3 pink bulbs, 4 years ago. This is the power of nature’s regenerative growth, with which men love to interfere, because they consider themselves progressive gardeners.
I just happened to ask a friend why she did not think of growing bulbs, even though different varieties of plants were growing both indoors and outdoors, her answer was that it was such a headache. Get rid of that thought, immediately please. She was, like the number of people out there under the impression that the best bulbs were imported from Holland, Japan, Asia, England and France and one just could not grow them in America. This is so not true. Her disappointment was partly because a couple of bulbs did not come up, even though you had bought them from the nursery with such great expectations, which does not mean that you forget about this excellent gardening pastime. In fact, some of the most popular indoor plants like tulips and Amaryllis when once planted are going to last from one year to another without needing to be uprooted, repotted, replanted, or shifted from their permanent container. Also, bulbs have this bad habit of waking up after a long period of sleep, depending on the variety, and can take anywhere between 4 months to 6 months depending on your geography can locality and the season. So possibly, she was not patient enough to wait for her bulbs to grow and give them up as a bad job after a couple of months/weeks!
This unfortunately is the occupational hazard of a large number of us out there, who do not have patience especially like that of those medieval Dutch bulb growers, who waited for years for the perfect specimen, as seen in the Classic Novel, the Black Tulip.
Modern-day gardeners as well as gardeners during our childhood told us that all the bulbs had to be taken out after they had stopped blooming and stored away to be planted, during the next growing season. This is wrong, this is bad gardening practice. If the place where you are staying is not subjected to a frost in the winter, and the ground outdoors does not get frozen, do not uproot all your gladioli, lilies, daffodils, tulips, crocuses, Narcissus and so on.
When we were kids, we noticed our gardeners doing this every year, after the rains were over. And it astonished us how just one Gladiolus plant in one color combination could give rise to so many other bulbs – rhizomes as they are called in botanical language. From one flower bed, we used to get about 3 – 4 sacks full of these rhizomes, in the most exquisite color combinations and about 40 to 50 different varieties, the like, which I have never seen when I grew up, which the gardener put away in one corner of the garage, because according to him, the season was over.
Until I was 30 years old, I was under the same impression, because the wrong things you learn in childhood, especially by someone who you thought was experienced in gardening are practiced even when you are grown up, until you learn better or you learn some common sense and begin questioning the knowledge you imbibed as a child because you did not know about the other and correct options out there.
But then I can also give my gardeners a benefit of doubt, because most of them were trained by British Sahibs and Memsahibs in colonial areas, where the gardening practices, which worked perfectly well in the UK and in a really cold climate were trying to be implemented in tropical and desert countries and colonies around the globe!
There are some bulb varieties which do not mind mild snowfall, because they are adapted by nature to bloom in the winter, like these winter bulbs.
Also remember that everything that you see on the Internet, about bulbs growing, not growing, never growing after one bloom, is to be taken with a pinch of salt, because I saw a couple of sites telling me that some particular bulbs bloomed only once-in-a-lifetime. And then they had to be removed from the soil. That same site informed me that it would take 7 ½ years for a flower of one particular bulbs species – I am not giving you its name, because you might subconsciously remember this little bit of misguiding information and consider it to be the truth – to bloom again, once it has bloomed, after which it would dry up and die. My answer to such wrong statements is definitely a loud resounding raspberry. – Very rude.
That is because all the different bulbs, the annuals as well as the perennials, which have bloomed in different gardens in different locations in different weathers, and in different geographical localities, during a peripatetic childhood, youth, and adult age have always bloomed when it is the season for them to rise from the ground in spring, autumn and winter, during their lifetimes. And the next season, they spring up again in the spring, and even bloom again. If a botanist tells me it is not possible, I had better tell him to go and see all the repeated blooms of last year bulbs which have not been dug up the previous season, and replanted again, but left to their own devices, with mother nature taking care of her plants, instead of they being maltreated by ignorant Or We-Know-Best Gardeners.
Indoor Cultivation of Bulbs
There are a number of ways, in which bulbs have been grown. Traditionally, you just put them in soil, water them, give them adequate heat and air, and they would flourish. I am also going to teach you how you can grow them in water, in the air, and in other mediums. Half of these tips and techniques were used in the 19th and 20th century by gardeners in England, and much before that since medieval times, in Holland, where the tulip was a national treasure, and still is.
But before we think of planting our bulbs, we need to keep some points in mind. The heaviest bulb is definitely not going to be the healthiest bulb in the nursery. Remember the bulb is one plant, just like a seed. The age, the plump appearance, the solidity, and also the weight of the bulb are all factors whether the specimen is going to be a perfect specimen or not. It is going to depend on the health of the parent plant to give you a really excellent result.
Once you have selected your bulbs, lay them all out on the table and begin looking for the proper containers for the different varieties. As there is no hard and fast rule saying that hyacinths or crocuses or Narcissus or daffodils have to be planted in containers of a width of 6 inches – all of this is confusing airy fairy persiflage, and if you find some side, giving you this sort of information on the Internet, ignore it because it is only going to confuse you even more- in the same way, I cannot tell you how many hyacinths bulbs you can plant in a 6 inches container, because it is going to depend entirely upon the shape and size of the bulbs.
Soil for your bulbs
Bulbs love lots of rich and loamy soil. This can be made naturally, and nowadays, lots of gardeners are getting quite crazy about natural already compost and recycling kitchen waste, even though gardeners wrote books about this method, in the 1920s and 30s extensively in Europe. So for all of us, who are busy going to Internet sites, to look at the latest information on how to use kitchen waste and other natural products in order to make compost, here is the time-honored method, being used by gardeners for millenniums, and repeated again and again, by everybody who sets himself up as an authority on gardening!
Anything which is natural is going to break down under the influence of the sun water and air. Thus, for centuries, nature has made sure that she has plenty of humus and natural organic fertilizer in which her plants can grow all over the world. But men who love interfering with nature will want to try to improve upon her own natural methods and added their own additions to her natural products. So to make your own heap of soil, these are the five layers which are essential to get rich loamy soil and fertilizer, and you do not have to go to the nursery and ask them for their own patent potted soil mix.
When people had all the time in the world, they just kept adding all the organic waste to a heap of soil in one corner of the garden and allowed it to decompose in its own sweet time. So depending on the weather outside, the geographical position, the locality, the ease with which the items in these file heaps decompose, it can take anywhere between six months to a year or so, before you get compost. And as this is an ongoing process, it is going to continue as long as you are gardening.
The best food for insects is stable manure which is decaying. In areas near the sea, they used dead fish, seaweed, or any other natural products from the sea for decomposition. Along with that, you will need some leaf mold from under the trees, made up of dead leaves, decompose during the last couple of years/decades/centuries, which is going to give you a resupply of humus as well as insect life!
Along with that, if you can manage some earthworms, so much the better. They love a moist atmosphere and plenty of organic food to turn into rich powdery soil. A layer of sand is also good for grit and an extra addition to the compost. You can add some egg shells, that will be quite good because then the plants will be getting an extra bonus of calcium and lime.
Along with this, if you can put in some sod, lawn clippings, anything which you have garnered from the garden, including leaves which have fallen down from the trees, vegetables, which are unusable, stalks, roots and foliage from any plants, so much the better. Just imagine that you are making a smorgasbord of delicious nutrients for your plants, and anything organic goes into this mixture. They are going to bless you for it. Make sure that there is no vestige of pesticide or any chemical liquids going into this material, including dishwater. Some people who use dishwater for spraying on their Plants to make them supposedly pest free and then use the same liquid, in order to irrigate their compost heap are failing in the purpose of getting mother nature’s totally hundred percent organic bounty, when they have already poisoned the future fertilizer with manufactured chemicals which are not only toxic in nature but are definitely good starter points for poisoning your land as well as your bulbs.
You may also want to put in some bone meal, if that is available, and some more crushed eggshells between the layers, just as extras.
Incidentally, in England, when they made these compost heaps in the late 19th century, they put in lots of sod because for them, that was the best source of organic decomposing material to be found. In Ireland, mostly gardeners put in peat and moss, because that was readily available and easy to collect. So look at the organic product which is easily available to you, and start your compost heap in the spring. That is when the insect life is going to begin to take an interest in the best place to rootle about in mother Earth, and when they find your compost heap, they are going to rest satisfied that they have found their dream resting place.
Do not disturb this compost heap, even though on the Internet, they keep telling you to keep turning the soil upside down. Now just imagine some busy earthworms happily having a feast and were busy chomping on some leaves and suddenly a human hand decided to disturb them, with a gardening implement, just to see whether any compost had been made or not. One can almost hear the little earthworms using very bad language at this unwarranted and unneeded interference, and disturbance of their day to day routine.
Once you have got a compost heap running, in one spring, and you have already managed to get the fertilizer from it, you can turn over the soil which is being manufactured, the next time around, because you are starting afresh with something new added to something old. Here you are going to be mixing a large number of ingredients together again. So with the already half decayed compost, to which you have added some more sod, stable manure, bone meal, vegetable waste, leaf mold, the composting process is going to speed up comparatively quicker, because all the insect life knows what to do, and will continue doing its eating activity and turning this material into decomposed rich fertilizer.
You really do not have the time and energy to wait for all this while in order to make a compost, go to a place where compost has already been made and makeup are natural mixture of 1/3 parts, each of farm yard manure – pesticide and hormone free if possible – sand, humus from your garden or from any woods and leaf mold. Mix them up together, sprinkle them with water and allow them to “ferment” in the sun for about anywhere between 72 hours to one week. This potted mixture can be considered a shortcut to the potted brand names being sold at your local nursery, with all its modern additions added to give color, some sort of excitement, possibly nutrition and verisimilitude to an otherwise boring and bland mixture.
If some soil has already been used once before, do not use it again. Some people are under the impression that hey, here is some soil left over in a window box, by the previous owner of this apartment; let me plant some seeds, seedlings, cuttings or bulbs in it. This is a futile exercise. That is because this soil has absolutely no nutritive value. It is like somebody feeding you pieces of cardboard and telling you that the pieces of bread are so delicious and nutritious, and you can grow really healthy, and rosy cheeked on it. What a tall tale!
The Best Way of Potting Your Bulbs
Now there is a difference between potting of your bulb and planting it. The planting was done to get adequate root growth and to see that the bulb was not dormant. The potting is going to be done in different containers, when you have the bulbs, the ready soil, and the container ready at hand, so that you can begin your timely potting activity right now.
The potting of the bulbs is, of course, as I told you going to depend upon your geographical location, but in Europe, Callas and freesias are potted in July – August, along with Roman hyacinths and paper white Narcissus depending on the weather and how harsh the summer has been. Other varieties are potted in September, when the weather turns mild, and lilies of the valley are potted in November, much before the frost and the cold sets in. The ideal time is of course going to be potting them immediately after you have received them from the nursery, but many times, when the bulbs have been bought online sight unseen , and on trust, you do not know when you are going to get your bulbs, and whether the conditions are favorable or not.
I remember a friend of mine, looking forward to planting her daffodil bulbs, after a very pleasant summer, in the beginning of September, and golly, how it rained. That particular year, the weather was very capricious and definitely not suitable for the planting of nursery hardened bulbs, which had already undergrown the storage treatment and had a good growth of roots. So there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip… Nevertheless…
The longer your bulb remains in its sleeping stage, dormant, the weaker it is going to grow in its constitution. However, historical fact tells us about archaeologists, who found 3,000-year-old bulbs, buried in the remains of an Egyptian palace, while they were hunting for Cleopatra’s burial place or something equally mystifying and mysterious.
If they do manage to find some papyri, talking about her secrets, I would want to know all about that long lost secret, with which flowers which had been cut a year or even a decade ago, still remained as fresh looking as if they were gathered just yesterday, after some particular ancient gardening treatment, which alas has now been lost to us. Naturally, these included the water lilies and the lotuses, of which the bulbs were found by the archaeologists about a decade ago. That method of preservation is how all the ancient Egyptian homes were filled up with cut flowers and decorations, which never dried up, never got discolored and displayed their glorious beauty, for as long as the householder decided to use them for a splash of color in his house.
Those ancient priceless bulbs were sent to Kew gardens and three of them germinated, out of the 14 found. Triumph for the botanical world and hats off to the recuperative power of Mother Nature, because she never does give up! Nevertheless, trying to plant your bulbs, after October, unless they are lilies of the valley is of no use at all. Late planting means that the bulb base is going to get hardened. When the flower blooms, you can lift the bloom right out, because it has no connection between the flower growth and the roots. That is why these plovers are going to be totally stunted, especially tulips, Narcissus and daffodils.
Planting of your bulbs
This is a procedure where you are encouraging the growth of the roots, before the winter season. This is also when you are not bothered about any storage and are planting your bulbs directly into the soil, in their permanent places. Hyacinths, tulips, narcissus and crocuses should be planted in September – October.
Look for a place, which has plenty of good drainage. Now pick up your bulb after you have removed about 5 inches of soil from the surface. Plant your bulb with the root downwards and about 6 inches away from another bulb. After you have planted your bulbs to your own satisfaction, cover them with a layer of soil to protect the future germinating plants. Crocuses like to be planted in shallow holes, so dig a 2 inch hole for crocuses, before planting.
Right Placement of Your Bulbs Indoors
Just imagine these in a green window box, in the winter, just standing in front of a frosted window. These bulbs are going to grow well if you do not place them directly in front of the radiator or heat source, in your centrally heated room. They can bear the sun, especially when it is slanting through the panes of glass. They cannot bear the direct continuous high-temperature from your room heating source, which is only going to dehydrate them. And because you think it is winter, you may think that they do not need a drink in that overheated room, which you find completely to your own taste and body temperature, but the plant, has either overheated or is still cold.
If it is a frosty night, and you intend to switch off the central heating in your living room or wherever you have placed your bulbs, protect them by bringing them to the middle of the room and covering them with many layers of newspapers – that is if you have not put in thermostat controlled temperature regulating systems.
This book is just a beginner’s guide to introduce you to the bulbs available all over the world. If you begin counting the varieties of rhizomes, corms, bulbs, you are going to spend a lifetime doing exactly that. Nevertheless, as a newbie, now that you know a little bit about growing well flowering bulbs indoors, you can now begin a really fulfilling gardening activity right now.
Remember that like in other activities in different hobbies, you need three things working for you – enjoyment of that activity, interest in knowing more about that activity, time taken out of your busy schedule to indulge in that relaxation process. I have just started you on your way to wanting to know more about bulbs. There are plenty of books out there, and informational sites which are going to confuse you even more because they are talking about bulb growing in Europe or in the USA, while you are based in another part of the world! So this is where you are going to use common sense. Take the growing tips and techniques from this book. After that implement them on bulb specimens taken from your own local area.
Even though the world is getting smaller, possibly you may have some indigenous species which have not managed to appear in the European or American market, yet. For example, there are plenty of bulb varieties in the Scilly Islands, which are thoroughly local, and which are not marketed anywhere else on earth. Also, in Holland, where they keep the cream of the milk for themselves and send the runt of the litter to the rest of the world even though they have taken the same amount of trouble to grow both the bulbs with care and dedication! So the time in which to grow them in your own living room is going to be different, depending on the temperature zone and the plant variety. As old sensible people used to say, when in doubt, always ask, – here asking means asking the advice of a wise person, who has experience in that particular field in your own area and locality and town – an aphorism which we have forgotten because we would rather go to the Internet and confuse ourselves for a couple of hours with conflicting information, based on knowledge which does not apply to our area or our bulb species or variety at all!
So happy growing of bulbs indoors, for your own pleasure or for gifting to your near and dear ones, come the holiday season next year!
Live Long and Prosper!