Use the force: Shortening the season for spring and summer blooms

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Avid gardeners will plant spring bulbs starting in October. The bulbs need to experience colder temperatures in order to begin the biochemical process that allows them to flower in the spring. But that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance. Some spring plantings can be tricked and still bloom right on schedule.

While it may be a little late to refrigerate bulbs yourself (most require 8 to 12 weeks) you can buy pre-chilled bulbs that are in season in your region. Large, tropical plant bulbs like Elephant Ears can take weeks to sprout. By starting them now in well-drained pots, i.e., “forcing” them, you can transplant well-established greenery to your garden when the ground thaws in early spring. This allows for a longer growing season because plants reach their full potential in a shorter amount of time.

Easy Flowers

A popular late winter project to do with kids is to grow inside some narcissus plant bulbs (in the daffodil family) like paperwhites. Many tutorials exist online. All you need is a big, wide bowl (people often use glass to easily monitor the water level), a bag or two of garden store pebbles and some paperwhite bulbs. Place the stones in the bowl and the bulbs root-side down in the stones, with the bulbs close together but preferably not touching each other. Put water in the bottom of the bowl, under the roots. The goal is to get the roots to reach down through the stones to get to the water, therefore anchoring the plant in the stones. Kids enjoy this project for its ease and the relative speed at which the roots grow downwards and the shoots grow up.

Keep the lowest part of the roots in fresh water. Have kids keep an eye on the water levels. If the stalks start to droop from the weight of the bloom, tie the stems together loosely with a shoelace or decorative ribbon. Once the flowers wilt, it’s time to toss the bulbs and start again. Getting new bulbs off the old ones is not likely, so it’s better to put them in the compost pile and start again.

Simple Vegetables

Many veggies like garlic, avocados, celery, and romaine lettuce can be regrown from a stem or pit in a simple glass of water. The only maintenance needed is a fresh bit of water every few days. Avocados need to hover over the water so the roots shoot downward toward the water. A few products exist on the market that hold the avocado in place but as our grandmothers’ windowsills showed us, a few toothpicks punched through the seed will do the trick. Celery, green onions, lettuces, and similar stalky or leafy vegetables can sit in the water. Children will like the relative growth speed of these plants too. Direct sun isn’t needed. Just plenty of indirect light and fresh water is all they need.

We’re sure a window sill or two could use some sprucing up. A few spring sprouts will brighten the blustery and wintry days still to come before May comes.