About Good Scents

The cut flower business ended in 2011 but I continue to post other items about gardening.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Forcing Lilies

My friend, Melanie, says she prefers to say "coaxing" rather than "forcing" bulbs. I do see her point but still say "forcing" to avoid confusion. Whether coaxing or forcing, what you are doing is providing the bulbs with conditions that give them the opportunity to bloom out of season. How does that sound?Most people think of forcing spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils so you can have a pot of them blooming in the house in March. But, you can also force lilies all year around if you provide the right conditions. This is possible because bulb wholesalers store the lilies in coolers at a constant 28 degrees F and ship them to growers throughout the year. The bulbs are then typically planted in bulb crates and grown in a greenhouse.

Bulb crates with 300 lily bulbs

I force a few hundred lilies each year to help supply me with flowers in late May. I just got the lilies yesterday and will plant them in their crates today. The process is as follows:
  1. Line the crates with newspaper or landscape fabric. I use landscape fabric because I don't take the newspaper and it can be reused over and over.
  2. Fill the crates with a couple inches of potting soil. A commercial mix is better than garden soil because it is much lighter and these crates will be moved around quite a bit.
  3. Set the bulbs on top of the mix. You can usually fit about 20 or even 25 per 18'x24" crate. This is much closer than they would be planted outside in a garden bed but after they bloom they will either be thrown out or replanted outside so it is not an issue.
  4. Cover the bulbs with another 4-5 inches of grow mix and water them.
  5. Store the crates at around 50 degrees F until the lilies begin to poke out of the soil. This cool temperature is necessary so that the lilies will develop good root systems. While the lilies are sprouting the crates can be stacked to save space.
  6. Once sprouts appear the crates are moved to a greenhouse and grown on at 65-70 degrees F.

If the bulbs I planted today were moved to 70 degrees as soon as they sprouted, they would bloom in in about 10 or 11 weeks. Mine always take longer because I don't keep my greenhouse that warm. Hopefully they will begin blooming in late May.

The varieites I am forcing for May are 'Salmon Classic', 'Courier' and 'Monte Negro'.

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