Daffodiles of spring any time of year

Follow 6 simple steps to force tazetta bulbs to bloom

Go Garden

November 19, 2005|By CINDY MCNATT | CINDY MCNATT,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Daffodils have been cherished through the ages. They have been found in bulb form in Egyptian tombs, are linked in mythology to the story of Narcissus, and the Greek poet Homer wrote about them in the 8th century B.C.

But if Homer was hiking in the Pyrenees foothills or even across the Mediterranean in Algiers, it is likely that his words were inspired by tazettas. This specific type of daffodil has clusters of creamy flowers. It is the easiest of all daffodils to grow and is especially suited to forcing.

It is unknown who was the first to force these bulbs to bloom on cue, but a good bet is the Chinese. They were 1,000 years ahead of the pack on propagation techniques, have known the tazetta since the 10th century and forced these flowers to bloom in time for their New Year's celebrations.

Forcing tazettas to bloom is simple.

"Tazettas are preprogrammed," said Ron Vanderhoff, a nursery manager in Corona del Mar, Calif.

What he means is that the bulb companies pump tazettas with sunshine and nutrients before they go dormant.

"There is old information out there about chilling tazettas in the refrigerator, or putting them in a dark closet for a few weeks before you bring them into a warm room," he said. That is not needed to force blooms.

"Bulbs that you buy specifically for forcing are ready to grow," Vanderhoff said. "Six simple steps will have them blooming in time for any event."

Since Vanderhoff's nursery employees force thousands of tazettas each year, we asked them to show us how they do it.

Pick the best bulbs

Choose tazetta-type daffodils. They have names such as Paperwhite, Soleil d'Or, Chinese Sacred, Ehrlicheer, Avalanche and Silver Chimes.

Bigger is better. A plump, healthy tazetta bulb can send up to six spikes per bulb, with 10 to 12 blooms per spike, and bloom over a six-week period.

Choose an appropriate container --Because forcing bulbs to bloom wears them out for good, and you will throw them away after they bloom, choosing a container is about style. Having a drainage hole or not makes little difference to the future of the bulb.

For the best show, choose something that is low and wide and at least 3 inches deep.

How to plant --Fill the container to two-thirds from the top with any medium you have on hand, such as potting soil, sand, gravel, pebbles or marbles. (Potting soil in particular, though, holds the right amount of moisture for these plants.)

Place the bulbs -- point up -- on top of the fill. Pack them tightly for the best display.

Continue to fill the container to a half-inch from the top. If the bulbs peek through the soil, it won't affect the bloom.

Proper watering --Tazettas will want constant access to water, but don't confuse water availability with saturation. Plan to keep your bulbs consistently moist, but not wet.

If your container has a drainage hole, water it where excess moisture can drain.

If your container does not have a hole, water, wait an hour, then tip the pot over the sink so excess water drains.

Pick a cool place --Tazettas are not houseplants, but in a frigid climate, you can't grow them outdoors. A good bet is a cool basement. If you have access to filtered sunlight, place them there, but turn your containers every two to three days. You can bring them into living areas for parties or display, then return them to the growing area.

It's all about timing --You can force tazettas to bloom any month of the year, but some months take a little longer than others, due to the amount of daylight and warmth. The closer you get to their natural bloom period, the quicker they will get up and grow. If you are forcing bulbs in November and December, allow five weeks from start to bloom.

Other tips:

If an important party is planned, stagger your plantings so you will be sure to hit your target date.

You can speed up the bloom period by putting your bulbs in full sun and finding a warm spot for them at night.

You can slow down the bloom period by moving them to a cooler area.

TAZETTA TIPS

A plump tazetta bulb can produce up to 72 blossoms and bloom for six weeks.

For the best show, choose a container that is low and wide and at least 3 inches deep.

Place the bulbs point up on top of fill and pack them tightly for the best display.

Plan to keep your bulbs consistently moist, but not saturated and wet.

Pick a spot that will keep bulbs cool. To hasten blooming, place in bright, filtered sun and turn your containers every two to three days.

Cindy McNatt is a reporter for the Orange County Register.

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