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Bulbs From Thanksgiving To Easter With House Plants

( Originally Published 1923 )

The easiest plants for the amateur to grow in the window garden are the bulbs. Roman hyacinths can be had by Thanks-giving; indeed, it is hard to fail with these charming flowers, and they come in red, blue, and white.

There is a long list of available bulbs, but most of them belong to one of two classes — Dutch bulbs and Cape bulbs — and all of each class used need similar treatment.


The bulbs which are known as "Dutch" in the trade are tulips, hyacinths, narcissus, crocuses, snowdrops, etc. To these might be added the Bermuda and Madonna lilies, be-cause they require much the same treatment.

When the bulbs are received from the bulb merchant, about October 1st, put them in a good soil. I have used the soil described in Chapter II. Leafmould is not an essential, but I prefer to use it.


Put the bulbs in pans rather than in pots. Six-inch pans are the best for the small bulbs like crocuses, snowdrops, and bulbocodiums; the polyanthus narcissus are generally grown in six-inch pots; one, two, or three bulbs to a pot, according to the size of the bulbs. Tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils are best grown in eight-inch pans. Pans look better than pots — there is not such an expanse of red clay — and besides, they do not take up as much room. Set the bulbs to a depth to have them just covered with soil. After potting give them a good watering and set them away to make roots.

The secret of bulb culture lies almost entirely in the root development. If the bulbs are not well rooted before they are forced they will not make good flowers.

But no amount of care will increase the number of flowers, for that is already determined — the buds are already formed in the bulb — but the size of the flowers depends largely upon having good heavy bulbs and giving them proper treatment before forcing. To secure a good root system on the Dutch bulbs put them, after potting, in a cool, dark place and keep the soil moderately damp for at least six weeks, except that Roman hyacinths can be forced after three weeks, and will flower in two or three weeks. I prefer to bury the bulbs about a foot in soil outdoors. When the ground begins to freeze a mulch of leaves or manure, sufficiently thick to keep the soil from freezing, is put on them. Here they are left until wanted for forcing.

One amateur solved the winter storage of her bulbs as follows:

"The construction of the pit was of the simplest. A bottomless box was sunk in the ground to a depth of three or four inches — enough to make it stand firm. This left an enclosing board frame about nine inches high above the ground level. Inside this frame the earth was dug out to a depth of eighteen inches, and a layer of coarse coal ashes spread on the bottom, to insure good drainage. On this foundation the pots of bulbs were placed. The spaces between the pots were filled with sphagnum, and a layer of moss was laid over them. The box was then filled in with clean oat straw, tucked in with a warm blanket of old carpet, and instead of a glass sash a tight wooden lid was fitted on and held in place by pine boughs. All these precautions are necessary here, for the thermometer sometimes registers 35 degrees below zero!"


If neither of these methods is convenient, and you have a cool cellar, put the pots in a dark, out of the way corner and cover them with a foot or so of soil. Here they will always be handy for bringing into light and heat as required; but watch out that the mice and rats do not get at them.

For Christmas flowers force Paper White and polyanthus narcissus, Roman hyacinths, and the Duc van Thol tulips. They will require four weeks (except for the hyacinths, which are one week less) after being brought out into the light. The other Dutch bulbs will not force well so early in the year, and should not be brought into heat until about Christmas time, or later, according to when the flowers are wanted.

By bringing in the pots in batches in succession, at intervals of say ten days apart, flowers can be had from about January 20th until outdoor spring flowers appear. The pots or pans merely need digging from the ground and being put in the window gar-den, and the bulbs will at once commence to grow if not exposed to frost. On very cold or windy nights move them back from the window. They cannot help flowering if given decent treatment. Failures with bulbs are due, largely, to careless treatment.


Good tulips for early forcing are Proserpine, Yellow Prince, Chrysolora, Vermilion Brilliant, La Reine, Rose Grisdelin, Cottage Maid. The other varieties do better if not started until late in January or early February. Do not try to force double tulips until late in February.

To get the Easter lily in flower for Easter, forcing must be started early — not later than December 1st—varying the heat according to the progress made. The lilies are grown one to a six-inch pot or several to an eight-inch pot.

The easiest bulbs to grow are the Roman hyacinths which may even be had in flower at Thanksgiving, Chinese sacred lily, and Paper White narcissus. These can be grown in water, or in cocoanut fibre or sand, requiring the same treatment as in soil.

The easiest plant to grow in pure water is the Chinese sacred lily; but you must be careful not to let a cold draught strike the buds or they will "blast." Heat causes the same thing. A temperature of about 50 degrees at night will give the best results. Get a shallow bowl and put in enough prettily coloured pebbles to hold the bulb in position.

To grow hyacinths in glasses select only the named single varieties that are specially recommended for this purpose. Use soft rain water. Put in a few bits of charcoal. See that the base of the bulb is always in contact with the water and don't let the water rise much above the base of the bulb. Keep the glasses in a cool, dark, well ventilated place until the roots reach the bottom of the glass. Then bring them into light and warmth. Don't put them near a gas jet, especially one that leaks. Move them away from the windows on cold nights. Change the water every few days. The patent glasses make this operation easier. Add two or three drops of ammonia once a week to the water.


The Cape bulbs consist of such bulbs as freesia, ixia, sparaxis, oxalis — bulbs from the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope.

As the bulbs are small I believe the amateur should plant them in five-inch pots. He can then make a few bulbs last over a greater season by bringing a pot at a time into heat at intervals of ten days. By starting the freesias and oxalis in August they can be had in flower at Christmas the balance of the bulbs will do much better if not forced until after Christmas.

The Cape bulbs cannot be stored away in a dark place; they must have a light, cool, but frost-proof place in which to start growth, because they make some leaf growth as the roots develop. A cool room, having a temperature of 35 degrees to 40 degrees at night, and not higher than 50 degrees during the day, will be excellent. From here they can be brought into the window of the living room as wanted.

The ease with which the oxalis and freesias can be grown, and their beauty, are certainly attractions enough to induce anyone who has inclination to grow flowers to try them in the window.

The ixia and sparaxis, however, are seldom met with even at the florists. Both are cool-loving plants. The ixia does best when grown in a night temperature of 35 degrees or 40 degrees, with a rise of 10 degrees or 15 degrees during the day. It sends up long, grass-like leaves, and finally a long flower stalk, sometimes eighteen inches high, which ends in a spike three to eight inches long, of red, white, or blue flowers, according to the variety. The spikes contain six to twelve flowers, each of which is anywhere from one to two inches in diameter. If successfully flowered they are worth all the time and trouble you have gone to to produce them.

The sparaxis is much less known than the ixia; in fact, some bulb merchants never catalogue it, yet the European dealers recognize as many as twenty-five distinct named varieties. The plants grow six to twelve inches high, and each one produces from one to three or four flowers, each of which is one to two inches across, and funnel-shaped. It can be grown in the temperature of the ordinary window garden with success, for in the greenhouse it succeeds admirably in a temperature of 55 degrees at night.

If you have a cool corner in your conservatory or a window in a cool room, grow some of the named varieties of the poppy-flowered anemone (A. Coronaria) and the turbaned or Persian ranunculus (R. Asiaticus). They are excellent either as pot plants or as cut flowers. Give them the same treatment as the Cape bulbs, and you are sure to succeed.

The poppy-flowered anemone has a pretty, finely divided leaf and a flower anywhere from one and a half to two and a half inches across, red, white, or blue in colour, and with a big bunch of blue stamens. It grows six inches to a foot high. If you buy any of the tubers of these I '11 wager you will look at them twice, and then begin to berate the bulb merchant for selling you some old, dried-up tubers, because they are very small, peculiar-shaped things, which apparently have no top or bottom. I must confess I never know whether I have some of them right side up or not. And because of the ease with which a bulb merchant can deceive a customer who is not acquainted with these tubers, I am sorry to say that some unscrupulous dealers have sold two or three year old bulbs as fresh ones. Of course they did not grow. The temptation to do this is great because the sale for them in this country is small; so buy from some seedsman in whom you have confidence.

The ranunculus has a fleshy root which looks like a lot of dimunitive sweet potatoes, one-half an inch long, joined together at one end, the other end hanging free. The plants grow six inches to a foot high, and the flowers in the double varieties, which are the only ones worth growing, are ball-like, red or yellow, one to one and one-half inches across.

Here is a dollar collection of bulbs that gave one amateur flowers every day without a break from Christmas to Easter:

Chinese lilies, bloomed from December 23d to January 12th; Double Roman narcissus, bloomed from January 13th to January 25th; Grand Soleil d'Or narcissus, bloomed from January 22d to February 13th; Crocus, bloomed from February 7th to March 12th; Van Sion narcissus, bloomed from March 7th to March 25th; Princess Marianne tulip, bloomed from March 23d to April 9th.

How many bulbs to put in a six-inch pan is told in this list:

Crocus, six; Freesia, nine; Hyacinth, named, three; Hyacinth, miniature, five; Hyacinth, Roman, six; Ixia, six to nine; Narcissus, three to five; Oxalis, nine; Tulip, six.

Eight-inch pans are more effective for the large bulbs, and six-inch pans for the small ones. Try ten tulips, ten narcissi or eight hyacinths in an eight-inch pan. Many people like to grow hyacinths singly in five-inch hyacinth pots, which are an inch and a half deeper than ordinary flower pots.

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