Beat Blue Monday with beautiful bulbs

Activity

Buy pre-prepared bulbs or ‘force’ your own autumn bulbs for some cheery indoor winter colour. This is a fun and cheap gift, ideal for bringing bright colours indoors to beat those winter blues.  

  • Estimated time: 45 minutes
  • Location: Outdoors & Indoors
  • School term: Early Autumn, Late Autumn
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science, Art&DT

Learning objectives

  • Learn about growing different bulbs indoors
  • How the bulbs need the cold to grow beautiful flowers
  • Learn what care bulbs need when growing indoors

Preparation

If starting these bulbs for Blue Monday, buy ‘prepared’ bulbs in December or already ‘pre-prepared and potted’ bulbs. Prepared bulbs have already been through the cold process. Once planted and watered they only need to be left in the cold for 4-5 weeks. Place in a warm, sunny spot where they will flower in 4-5 weeks. Bulbs that have already been ‘prepared and potted’ can be left outside in a place free from frost for 1-2 weeks to postpone their flowering until the 2nd week of January.

If buying normal un-prepared bulbs and starting this activity in September or October the cold period varies depending on what bulb you choose.
Here are our suggestions for easier growing;

  • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) – soak the bulb for two hours then plant, in a pot just slightly larger than the bulb. These plants like being ‘pot bound’ (have only a little growing space) so a tall thin pot is ideal. No cold period is required, so plant these bulbs straight away and watch them grow. It will take 10 weeks from planting to flowering. See our video about Amaryllis here.
  • Hyacinth – cool for 8-10 weeks, then bring into the warmth where they should take about 3 weeks to flower. 
  • Paper-white Daffodils (Narcissus) – cool for 6-10 weeks, then bring into the warmth. Once inside they should take about 5-6 weeks to flower. You can grow these in a vase with grit, see our video here.
  • Iris – cool for 15 weeks, then bring into the warmth. Once inside they should take about 2 weeks to flower.

During the cold periods, keeping bulbs frost-free prevents any damage to new growth that grows from the bulbs. Protecting them this way helps the bulbs produce better leaves and flowers. Frost damage can look like black or brown burn marks on any green growth.

Gather supportive sticks from the garden. Clean them with water and let them dry before using. Alternatively buy some canes or use food skewers with some string.

Equipment

  • Bulbs of your choosing
  • Compost (multipurpose, bulb fibre or garden soil mixed with small grit)
  • Pots
  • Gloves
  • Water and watering device e.g. watering can or jug
  • Label
  • Pen or pencil 
  • Sticks or canes to support tall bulb stems (only needed if using amaryllis or daffodils)

Step by step

  1. Choose and buy the bulb type you want to use and grow. There is a list of them in the preparations box with their common names and how long they need to be chilled. Bulbs can irritate your skin, so make sure anyone handling them wears gloves.
  2. Pick a pot to grow your bulbs in. If it has holes in the base remember to have a saucer or larger sealed pot to put it in when you bring the pot inside. This will allow any excess water to run out of the bulb filled pot after watering, without getting water indoors.
  3. Gather all the equipment you need, ready for planting. Measure your bulbs against the inside of your chosen pot with the growing tip above the rim, where the bottom of the bulb is, this is where you will fill the pot to with compost.
  4. If you have some small grit add a layer of about 2-4centimetres to the bottom of your pot, this helps the bulbs stay dry. If you don’t have any grit you can just fill your pot with compost to roughly the bottom of the bulb. When using just compost keep a watchful eye on your watering. Bulbs only need a little bit of water to start them growing as they already have everything they need to grow stored in the bulb. If bulbs get too wet they can rot and become mouldy so it is best to keep them dry and only water when the soil is very dry (dusty or hard to the touch).  
  5. Place your chosen bulbs on top of the compost in your pot. Make sure they are not touching each other or the side of the pot. This gives them the space to grow and expand as they take up water.
  6. Once placed fill in the gaps between the bulbs and side of the pot with compost, leaving the top third or growing tips sticking out. If you want to make the pot more decorative you could add a layer of grit, moss or sand to the top of the compost. Remember to label your bulbs so you or anyone you gift them to knows what they are. If you add they date they were planted to the label you will be able to track roughly when they should be brought in and when they will flower.
  7. Some bulbs such as paper-white daffodils have tall stems. To support these delicate stems add some supportive canes or sticks collected from the garden to your pot of bulbs, careful not to put them too close to the bulbs.
  8. You are now ready to water your bulbs, careful not to over water them and allow any excess water to drain away.
  9. It is time to put your planted bulbs in the cold, all bulbs will need temperatures between 1.5°C- 9°C to simulate a cold winter. They will need a cold, dark, dry and frost-free spot to be left for a number of weeks, see the preparation box for this information. You could put them in a garage, shed, cold greenhouse, a cold frame, a dry (covered) area outside or if you don’t have any of those you can put them outside in a black bin bag to protect them. If you use a black bin bag make sure it has air in it and the sides don’t touch the bulbs, and if you have added supporting sticks to your pot these will help.
  10. Make sure you check on your bulbs during their time in the cold. If the soil has dried out and become dusty to your touch then give them a water. Doing this will help encourage the bulbs root growth, which is vital to producing beautiful flowers. To check if they need watered, feel the surface of the soil in the pot with your fingers to see if it is damp or dry. The soil will stick to your fingers if it is damp.  
  11. After their cold period they should have started to grow some small green shoots. Once they have done this you will need to bring them into a warm spot indoors to trick them into thinking spring has sprung. More green growth should occur after a few days or a week. Keep them in a warm, sunny spot, watering when needed until they produce their beautiful flowers.

Hints & tips

  • Bulbs dislike getting wet. So make sure you allow any excess water to drain out of pots after watering. If you use a pot without holes in the base gently place the pot on its side to let any excess water drain away.
  • To grow these bulbs as flowering Christmas gifts start the process off in late September to October, depending on the bulbs varieties you choose.
  • In late November to December you can also buy pre-prepared bulbs that have been planted in pots. These are slightly more expensive but all the work has been done for you so you can just enjoy watching them grow and flower. Buying these will mean you can have flowering bulbs for the festive season.
  • Once your bulbs have stopped flowering leave them in a cold but frost-free place to let them die back. You can then plant them in the garden.

We've won awards!

Winner of the Drum Marketing Awards 2017
Winner of the ERA 2017 awards
Winner of the Third Sector 2017 awards