Seed storing and bulb forcing

Summer was so short I can hardly believe this is my last Everyday Gardener column for 2014. But it is, so here we go. Many thanks to all who emailed in response to my last column about being cited by the city for having unruly gardens. It appears that we are far from the only gardeners whose flowers have run afoul of the law. And several of you expressed a willingness to work together to see what we might do to work with the city on this issue. Any help would be most appreciated, so please email me via my blog,, if you’re interested.

Moving on; if you haven’t yet visited the Little Free Seed Bank, there’s still time. For those who don’t know, we’ve reserved the top shelf of our Little Free Library for seed sharing in the spring and fall. Gardeners who want to share seeds can add them to the library anytime—just be sure to bring seeds in envelopes that are labeled with the name of the plant. Don’t have seeds to contribute? No worry. Come and browse through the seeds in the library anytime. If you find something you’d like to try growing, just put some seeds in the coin-sized envelopes that are provided and take ‘em home.

You’ll find our library on the boulevard outside our house on the corner of Washburn Avenue South and 45th Street. Available seeds as of this writing include: grey-headed coneflower, hyacinth bean, forget-me-nots, red swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, borage, arugula, anise hyssop, cleome (purple and white), liatris (blazing star), black-eyed Susan, morning glory (Grandpa Ott), Culver’s root, black snakeroot, datura, candy lily and golden Alexander. Seeds will be available through December. After that, I’ll bring the seeds indoors and store them until I restock the library with seeds in the spring.

If you’re new to saving seeds from year to year, here are a few helpful tips. Heat and humidity can do seeds in fast, so be sure to store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place like a cool basement or the fridge — not the freezer. Mason jars, plastic or glass containers with lids, empty prescription bottles and clean spice jars are all great for storing seeds. Be sure the seeds are completely dry before you tighten the lid. If you see moisture forming on the inside of the container, leave the lid off for a while longer or you’ll end up with moldy seeds. Even if you think you have the best memory ever, label your seeds before you store them because you will never remember what in the heck they are come spring. Seriously, you won’t.

In addition to getting seeds stored away, November is a good time to pot up bulbs for winter bloom indoors. The technique is called “forcing” and here’s what you need to know to do it. Purchase quality bulbs at a garden center you like or from an online retailer that you trust —or at least one that has a good return policy if the bulbs aren’t in good shape when they arrive. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, crocus, scilla, grape hyacinth and amaryllis are the bulbs that are most commonly forced.

Because bulbs bloom at different times, I like to plant one variety in each pot, but that’s just me. It’s fine to combine them. When planting, place bulbs close together (but not touching) in clean terra cotta or plastic pots partially filled with soilless potting soil. The pointy end of the bulbs should be up and visible above the soil line. Water your bulbs as soon as you’re done planting them.

With the exception of amaryllis and paperwhites, bulbs that are not marked as “pre-chilled” need a cold treatment ranging from 8 to 15 weeks in order to root and flower. The number of weeks depends on the type of bulb with hyacinth and daffodils requiring a minimum of 12 weeks while grape hyacinth and crocus need a minimum of 8 and tulips 10. Temps should be between 35 to 48 degrees, which isn’t that easy to achieve in Minnesota. But you’re in luck if you’ve got an unheated attic or a cold room in the basement.

Otherwise, if you live with someone whose okay with having dirt in the fridge, cover your potted bulbs with plastic that has a few holes punched in it and place the pots way back on a shelf where it will be chillier. Make sure they are not near ripening fruits because they emit a gas that can harm developing flower buds. Mark your calendar and once the cooling period is up, move the potted bulbs into a warm, sunny room. Keep bulbs out of direct sunlight so blooms will last longer. Enjoy!

Check out Meleah’s blog: for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.