Forcing bulbs in winter is a wonderful way to bring spring into the house a little early. Forcing bulbs indoors is easy to do, whether you are forcing bulbs in water or soil. Keep reading to learn about how to force a bulb inside your home.
Choosing and Preparing Bulbs for Forcing
Almost any spring blooming bulb can be forced to bloom indoors, but some spring blooming bulbs are more popular for bulb forcing. Some popular spring bulbs to force are:
Choose flower bulbs for forcing that are plump and firm. The larger the flower bulb is, the bigger the bloom will be.
With the exception of amaryllis, unless you have bought flower bulbs that have been specifically prepared for forcing, you will need to prepare them. Place them in a cold place, between 35 and 45 degrees F. (2-7 C.) for 10 to 12 weeks. Many people use either their refrigerator in the vegetable drawer or an unheated garage to do this. This is called pre-chilling. Once your flower bulbs have been pre-chilled, you can start forcing bulbs indoors in either water or soil.
How to Force a Bulb to Bloom in Water
When forcing bulbs in water, first choose a container to use for forcing. You can buy specific vases called forcing vases to grow your flower bulb indoors. These are vases that have a short, narrow necks and wide mouths. They allow the flower bulb to sit with only its roots in the water.
You do not need a forcing vase to force a bulb to bloom in water. You can also use a pan or bowl filled with pebbles. Bury the bulbs halfway into the pebbles, with the points facing up. Fill the pan or bowl with water so that the lower quarter of the flower bulb is in the water. Make sure that the pan or bowl always has water.
How to Force a Bulb Inside in Pots and Soil
Flower bulbs can also be forced inside in pots filled with soil. Fill the pot with a light potting mix. Do not use soil from your garden. Plant the flower bulbs you will be forcing half to three-quarters of the way deep into the pot. The pointy tops of the bulbs should be out of the soil. Water the bulbs and keep the soil moist.
Caring for Forced Bulbs
Keep your planted bulbs in a cool place, 50 to 60 degrees F. (10-60 C.), until it starts to form leaves. This will help it to form a more compact flower stem, which is less likely to fall over. Once leaves appear, you can move the flower bulbs to a warmer location. They prefer bright, indirect light. Make sure to keep your forced bulbs watered. The roots should always have moisture.
Once your forced bulbs have finished blooming, you can cut the spent flowers off and plant them outside. You can find directions on planting forced bulbs outside here. The only exception to this is the amaryllis, which cannot survive outdoors year-round. You can, however, force an amaryllis to rebloom. Learn how to make an amaryllis rebloom here.
Forcing bulbs indoors in water is an easy way to enjoy early spring blooms. It is common to bring in a branch of forsythia or other early blooming plant and force it to flower in a vase of water, but can flower bulbs grow in water? Growing bulbs in water is easy but you need to provide the proper amount of chilling time and choose big, fat, healthy bulbs for the project.
Can Flower Bulbs Grow in Water?
Even a novice gardener can learn how to grow flower bulbs in water. You only need a few materials, some fresh water and your choice of bulbs. Not all spring bulbs are good choices for forcing but you can try daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, crocus, and many more. Provide the right container, lighting, and clean water and properly chilled bulbs can fill your home with their winter blasting color and form.
While most bulbs are grown in soil, the bulb itself is actually a storage unit with plentiful carbohydrates for growth and root-forming cells. The plants won’t last long but the fuel inside the bulb is enough to produce some foliage and flowers indoors for a period of time. The first step is to pick good, healthy bulbs without any mold or soft spots. The bulbs should be large and without blemish. If the bulb is not pre-chilled, use the following chart or give the bulb 3 months on average for chilling:
– 12-15 weeks – 10-16 weeks – 8-15 weeks – 8-15 weeks – 13-15 weeks – 15 weeks – 12-15 weeks
Forcing flower bulbs in water still requires the plant to experience cold to force the embryo inside to break dormancy when faced with warmer temperatures. Place the bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator to trick them into releasing dormancy early.
Choosing Containers for Growing Bulbs in Water
Bulbs that grow without the stabilizing strength of soil tend to flop over, resulting in a less than appealing display. In order to prevent this, use a container that is at least as tall as the flower stalks will grow.
A clear container is fun, because it allows you to watch the roots and shoots form, but you can use any container that will support the leaves and stems and holds water. There are specific vases shaped like an hourglass that support the bulb growth while forcing flower bulbs in water and have an attractive appearance.
How to Grow Flower Bulbs in Water
Forcing bulbs indoors in water may be done by simply submerging the root zone, or you can get fancy and suspend the bulb above the water so only the roots are in the liquid. This method prevents possible rotting from extended submersion. The vases made for forcing bulbs suspend the bulb over the water source. You may also take a tall vase and fill the bottom with pebbles or decorative glass beads. The roots will grow into the pebble and water mixture while the bulb stays high and dry.
Arrange the bulbs with the pointed side up on top of the pebbles or beads, add just enough water to just under the bottoms of the bulbs. Keep the container in a room with bright, indirect light and watch the roots form. Add water as necessary to keep the level just where the root zone is forming.
Over time you will see leaves and stems. Move the plant to a lighter area where temperatures are at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C.). Turn the vase so the stems grow straight and don’t lean towards the sun. Most bulbs will flower in 2 to 3 weeks after their chilling period.
For those who can never get enough of tulips, daffodils, and spring bulbs, try potting them up to force into cheerful bloom this winter in the house. See our tips on how to force bulbs and a timetable for when to pot up different types of bulbs.
It is easy enough to do and you will be glad you did it when they start blossoming while there is still snow on the ground.
Temperature, moisture, sufficient cold period, and protection from rodents are the most important considerations. Some bulb varieties, like early single tulips, are easy to force. Many bulbs are now being marketed specifically for forcing and will say so on the label.
Buy the biggest, healthiest bulbs you can find and they will reward you with the best flowers.
Potting the Bulbs
Potting is the easiest part of this process and the messiest. I use shallow wide containers called bulb pans that are 5 inches deep and 8 inches across. Fill your pots half to three-quarters full of fast draining potting soil or a soilless mix. No fertilizer is necessary because your bulbs come packed with all the nutrition they need to produce this season’s flowers. Place them in the pot, pointy end up, as close together as you like. Don’t let them touch just in case one rots it won’t spoil the rest. A full pot gives a better display and you can mix varieties in the same container if you wish.
When planting tulips be sure the flat side of the bulb faces the pot rim because this is the side that will have the first leaf and it looks nicer draped over the edge of the pot instead of bunched up in the center. Cover the bulbs with soil to within an inch of the rim to allow room for watering. It is okay if large bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths have their noses sticking up out of the soil. Water the pots well and put them in a cold, dark, place to develop roots. Check the pots once a week and water when dry.
To get our flowering bulbs to bloom indoors we have to trick them into thinking winter has come and gone and it is safe to blossom.
Storing the Pots
The key to success is finding a place to store them that is accessible, cold enough, and protected from marauding rodents. Many books recommend digging a trench, putting the pots in there, and covering them with dirt or leaves. This will work in warmer climates. In the frozen north, however, you need to use a cold basement or unheated room that stays between 32 to 40 degrees. Most bulbs need 12 to 15 weeks of cold treatment before they are sufficiently rooted and ready to bloom. Check the bottom of the pots for roots. Even if they show some top growth but aren’t well-rooted, give them more time in storage.
Forcing the Bulbs
When they have rooted and their time is up, you can start bringing pots out of cold storage. To prevent “blasting” or shriveling of the flower buds, introduce them to the warmth of the house gradually by placing them in a cool bright spot away from any heat source for 2-3 weeks. Most bulbs will begin to bloom in 2-5 weeks.
Timetable for Popular Forced Bulbs
Here’s a timetable for some popular forced bulbs:
- Crocus, iris reticulata, and snowdrops need 15 weeks of cold.
- Daffodils 15 to 17 weeks.
- Hyacinths, 11 to 14 weeks.
- Muscari 13 to 15 weeks.
- Scilla 12 to 15 weeks.
- Tulips 14 to 20 weeks.
Did you know that you can also force branches of flowering trees and shrubs into bloom? See our article on forcing branches.
You don’t have to wait for nature to hurry up in your garden outside in order to bring pretty blossoms into your home. Our tip? Force the blooms instead. This age-old gardening how-to tricks the flowers into thinking it’s time to bloom using water. By forcing your blooms, bulbs like tulips and hyacinth will begin to blossom ahead of schedule, and you’ll have gorgeous color for your windowsills. So how do we force blooms? The first thing you’ll need to do is search your local garden center for inexpensive forced bulbs. As we mentioned, bulbs like tulips, hyacinth, crocus, and daffodils are great options to force.
Use a mixture of potting soil, sand, and peat moss. Make sure the container has good drainage. Arrange bulbs close together with their tips sticking out of the soil. Make sure that the soil underneath is loose to encourage roots to grow quickly. Water the soil before placing the container to chill. Keep soil damp but not wet.
Place a layer of gravel in a container, arrange the bulbs as you’d like, and then fill with water so the bottoms of the bulbs just graze the water’s surface.
We like to force hyacinths in special bulbforcing vases. These can be found in florist shops or in antiques stores. Simply put the bulb in the top part of the glass, and add enough water so the bottom of the bulb is just touching it.
Tip: Wear gloves when handling hyacinth bulbs, which can cause skin irritation.
Let Them Chill
Most bulbs need several weeks of cold weather to prepare to bloom. Some, though, such as paperwhites and amaryllis, don’t need to chill at all. The amount of chill time for bulbs ranges from 8 to 16 weeks, so check the label when buying your bulbs to see the appropriate chill time for that selection, or buy the bulbs prechilled. For chilling, bulbs should be kept between 35 and 45 degrees. You can leave them in a dark, cool (but not below freezing) place like a garage, basement, or shed—or you can simulate winter’s chill by storing bulbs in the refrigerator.
Note: Don’t store them with fresh produce, because the ethylene gas from fruits and vegetables can keep bulbs from blooming.
Watch Them Grow
Regardless of what container you choose for chilling, the next step is to wait and let your bulbs root. Most bulbs should have blooms two to four weeks after chilling if you follow these steps: When shoots appear, take the container to a slightly warmer—but still cool—place (about 60 degrees), and give it indirect light until leaves are about 3 to 5 inches tall and flowerbuds appear. Then move the container to a warm, sunny spot (about 70 degrees). When the flowers open up, place them out of direct sunlight. This will encourage the blooms to last longer.
Forcing Bulbs to Bloom
You can also force branches to flower just before the season, but the closer to the actual bloom time, the easier the branches will be to force. Keep in mind that shrubs are actually easier to force than trees. When you go to cut the branches, be sure to cut the stem at an angle, and choose the right pruners for the job. A nice, clean cut makes a big difference. And, if you have the option, cut branches whose blooms have already begun to swell for the prettiest blossoms. Cut a slit at the end of each stem to increase the branch’s water intake. Immediately place the cut branches in water, and then cut them at an angle again once inside.
One of the ways I love to beat the winter blues is to surround myself with flowers. The smell, the colours and new sense of growth tell me spring is on the way.
During the long Guelph winter, fresh flowers from the garden are hard to come by, but with a smidgeon of effort and planning, we can trick a spring-blooming bulb into flowering earlier than it would if you planted outdoors. Called “forcing”, but more like growing a seed, forcing a bulb allows us the opportunity to grow our own flowers and nurture life from start to finish—and it all happens indoors. Who says you can’t grow flowers in Ontario in the middle of January?
When I order bulbs for our garden centre, I select two kinds of forcing bulbs: one that does not need chilling (Amaryllis and Paperwhite Narcissus) and those that need a cold spell to promote a bloom. Hyacinth, large flowering Crocus, dwarf Daffodil, and Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) are all excellent choices for forcing but need some chilling time before they’ll flower properly.
Force-Free Forcing: For Easy Blooms
For fresh blooms all winter long, plant several batches of bulbs, each batch a week apart. Amaryllis bulbs are easy to plant indoors and ready to bloom! Sometimes decorative and wax-covered, they are a big bulb—about the size of your fist—and produce a collection of red, pink, orange or white trumpet-shaped blooms atop a tall, sturdy stem. The other indoor bulb that does not need any chilling is Paperwhite Narcissus.
To force these successfully, choose your favourite container, fill with soil or layers of coloured gravel and plant so the bottom third of the bulb is buried. Water, place in a warm location and fragrant blooms will be yours three to five weeks after planting.
If using gravel, layer the gravel up to 4” deep and plant your bulbs the same way you would with soil. Water so the bottom of the bulb barely touches the top of the waterline. If the water comes too high up on the bulb, there is a risk of rotting the bulb.
Waxed Bulbs: The “Shortcut”
If you’re a real black thumb, there’s an even easier way to grow gorgeous flowers indoors; wax-covered bulbs! These bulbs require no “forcing” at all—in fact, they’re basically effortless. With wax-covered bulbs, all you need to do is place the bulb in a warm room and let nature takes it course – no soil, water or chilling required! We have a few gorgeous waxed amaryllis bulbs left in our nursery. You can pick a bulb covered in either gold or silver wax, and in a few weeks, they’ll bloom festive red flowers.
How to Force Bulbs that Need Chilling
Crocus, most Hyacinth and Tulips need chilling to mimic the cold winter months. Before chilling, follow these easy steps for success and don’t be afraid to snuggle your bulbs together so they touch!
- Choose your favourite pot or a larger glass container and fill with gravel or good potting soil.
- Plant bulbs four to six inches deep (my rule of thumb is twice the depth of the bulb), and water like you would outdoors. When I feel adventurous, I layer my bulbs in a larger, deeper container – Narcissus on the bottom, then Tulips and Crocus near the top, so there will be multiple heights and blooms come the dead of winter.
- Chill your planted pot in a cold frame next to the house, unheated shed or cold indoor location like a three-season sunroom. The refrigerator works too, but don’t store the bulbs with fresh produce as the gases from fruit and vegetables can inhibit flower production.
- Keep the planted pots between 35° and 45° Fahrenheit (2° to 7° Celsius) until you see green tips—around 6 to 12 weeks. When the tips emerge, put the pot in a warmer location (60° Fahrenheit or 15° Celsius) with indirect light, until the leaves are a few inches long.
Once flower buds appear, move your pot into a bright, warm room.
Use your favourite ceramic or clay pot, repurpose containers from your summer succulent planting or raid Grandma’s cupboard for a beautiful glass vase. Using clear glass will allow you to create a work of art, with layers of coloured gravel. Glass will also allow the kids to learn about root structures while they watch the bulb grow!
That’s about all there is to it! Forcing bulbs is a low-effort way to continue gardening indoors through the winter, and their bold blooms are a fabulous reward. Stop by our nursery, just a short drive from Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo or Cambridge, and discover all the colours hidden inside our bulbs.
Fill your house with scent in winter by learning how to force bulbs indoors. Autumn is the traditional season for bulb planting, and there’s no better time to plant up indoor potted bulbs, too. It might seem premature to be thinking about December flowers now, but bulbs start forming their roots early, and the bigger the root system, the better the results. So get ahead and grow your own hyacinths, amaryllis and narcissi in large pots indoors and when the flower buds burst open in time for Christmas, you’ll be so glad you did.
Keep reading for our guide to the best indoor bulbs to plant now and how to do it. Looking for ideas for outdoor spring bulbs too? Head over to our guide to planting bulbs in the garden for all the advice you’ll need.
How to force bulbs indoors
You can force any ordinary outdoor bulb to encourage them to flower much earlier by placing them in a paper bag at the bottom of the fridge for four to six weeks. Once they’ve had their cool period, you can bring them in somewhere warm (above 15˚C) and they will quickly shoot. They have been tricked into thinking that spring has arrived. The exception to this rule is big and bold amaryllis, which don’t need a cold spell in the fridge. However, bulbs especially grown for forcing such as delicate paperwhite narcissus and specially ‘prepared’ hyacinths do not need this treatment.
How to force bulbs in time for Christmas
If you start this process now, this will give bulbs time to develop in time for the festive season. Forcing bulbs is a technique that tricks them into thinking it’s spring through a combination of cold and dark conditions. This stimulates much earlier flowering and should give you plenty of showy blooms by the time the big day rolls around.
1. Plant bulbs in a shallow pot or bowl in good-quality loamy compost with some added grit to aid drainage, or use bulb fibre if the pot doesn’t have drainage holes. Place the bulb with its pointy tip facing up and just below the soil surface. Fill in around it. If the bulbs are large like hyacinth limit your planting to three, but if they’re smaller like narcissus pack them in more densely.
2. The bulbs will require a cool spell in a dark place for about 10 weeks to develop a good root system. Store in a black bin liner, box or drawer, somewhere cool such as a garage, cellar or shed for about 10 weeks at a temperature under 10˚C. Check them every few weeks and water lightly if needed.
3. Bring them out once shoots appear and move to a bright windowsill or table to flower. Once the blooms have faded, allow the foliage to die down naturally then plant out in the garden.
The best bulbs for forcing
The most popular indoor bulbs for forcing are delicate paper white narcissus, prepared hyacinths and showy amaryllis. You can also try pretty miniature daffodils, delicate muscari (grape hyacinth), anemones and dwarf iris reticulata. Here are some of our favourite ones to try and top tips for getting the best results.
The traditional paperwhite narcissus such as ‘Ziva’ is so strongly scented it will fill the house with fragrance. A great choice as a cut flower, it also works well as an indoor plant as they come out far earlier than the garden variety to give you pretty flower and scent when you most want it. Plant bulbs close together in pots filled with bulb fibre. Make sure the growing tips are protruding just above the top of the compost. Then put them in a cool, dark place for eight weeks before bringing them out.
These make an elegant indoor arrangement and they will fill the room with their intoxicating scent for weeks. Choose prepared hyacinths such as ‘Pink Pearl’ if you want to have flowers in bloom in time for Christmas. Prepared hyacinths are bred to bloom much earlier and it’s this variety that is grown mainly as indoor plants.
Brightly coloured narcissus
Lift the spirits on gloomy winter days with pots of brightly coloured yellow narcissus. Put the bulbs in a paper bag and pop them in the fridge for a few weeks before potting them up. Plant lots of bulbs in a shallow container containing good multipurpose compost with the tips just below the surface. Water well and leave in a cool place (10˚C) for about 10 weeks. When shoots appear, move somewhere above 15˚C and use support canes if they start to flop.
Big and bold amaryllis
The beautiful showy blooms of amaryllis (also known as hippeastrum) make a strong statement as an indoor plant. If you like drama these lush blooms come in strong velvety shades of bold crimson, magenta pink and deep maroon. It’s worth searching for large bulbs that are capable of throwing out two or three flower spikes that will flower longer, particularly if you place them in a cooler spot. Use bulb fibre or multipurpose compost and a pot slightly larger than the bulb. Ensure that the top third of the bulb sits above the surface of the compost. If you plant now, you can expect flowers after six to ten weeks. Water sparingly until the new leaves develop, then more regularly once they do. Turn the pot regularly to prevent the flower stalk leaning towards the light. The bigger the flowers the more the plant will need staking.
Shorter stemmed amaryllis
Amaryllis also come in shorter varieties and more muted colours. If you like a minimal look, group together pots of crisp white blooms to create a stunning seasonal table display. ‘Alfresco’ has double white flowers on shorter stems. Dress the tops of the pots with a layer of moss to add a touch of natural styling. The exotic trumpet-shaped blooms will look good for weeks if you position them in a cool spot.
Plants have internal time clocks that determine when they bloom — daffodils in spring, roses in summer and mums in fall. But plants can be convinced to flower sooner or later than normal by using a technique called forcing. If you have ever attended a late winter flower show, you have seen thousands of expertly forced trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs that have all been coaxed into bloom for a particular weekend.
There are two types of flowering bulbs that will bloom indoors.
No Chilling Needed: Amaryllis and Paperwhites for Winter Blooms
Amaryllis and paperwhites are winter-blooming bulbs that don’t require a cooling period to trigger flowering. This is because they are native to warm climates where temperatures never drop below freezing. When these bulbs become available in late fall, they can be planted indoors immediately and will bloom 4 to 12 weeks later. Growing instructions can be found here: All About Paperwhites and All About Amaryllis.
Chilling Needed: Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths and other Spring-Blooming Bulbs
Spring-flowering bulbs require a chilling period before they will bloom. Cold temperatures (35-45°F) stimulate a biochemical response that “turns on” the bulb and tells the embryonic flower to start developing. If these bulbs don’t go through an extended period of cold temperatures, they either won’t bloom or their flowers will be poorly formed.
Which Types of Spring-Blooming Bulbs to Force
The best candidates for forcing are crocus, hyacinths, muscari, tulips and daffodils. For tulips, good varieties for forcing include ‘Apricot Beauty’, ‘Princess Irene’, ‘Attila’ and ‘Monsella’. For daffodils, try ‘Tete-a-Tete’, ‘Jenny’, ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Cheerfulness’. Though you can mix different types of bulbs in the same container, it’s easier to get good results if you stick with just one.
When to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs
Bulbs that you are planning to force can be planted in pots at the same time you are planting bulbs outdoors — anytime during October or November. The bulbs should be fresh, firm and not dried out.
What to Plant Them In
Forced bulbs look best in shallow pots that are 4 to 6” deep. The pots should have a drainage hole in the bottom. Using a standard potting mix, put several inches of soil in the bottom of the container and then set the bulbs on top, pointy-end up. Forced bulbs look best when they’re planted very closely together with the bulbs almost touching each other. Cover the bulbs with more soil, until the tips are about an inch below the soil surface and then label each pot so you know what’s been planted. Water thoroughly to settle the bulbs in place.
Where to Store The Bulbs
Finding the right place to chill your bulbs is important. If you live where winters are moderate (zone 7) it’s relatively easy. The potted bulbs can simply be left outdoors as long as the soil doesn’t freeze or get waterlogged.
In climates where winter temperatures typically drop well below freezing (zones 3-6), the bulbs need to be stored in a protected place where the soil will not freeze. An unheated basement, attached garage, ventilated crawlspace or cold frame can work well. A spare refrigerator is ideal as long as it doesn’t contain any fruit. As they ripen, apples, peaches, pears and most other fruit emit ethylene gas, which will damage the bulbs.
How to Care for the Bulbs
During the chilling period, the soil in the pots should be barely moist. The pots must be kept in complete darkness or the bulbs will start growing before they’re fully chilled. The temperature needs to maintained at 35 to 45°F throughout the entire chilling period. Recommended minimum chilling times are as follows (extra chilling time is fine):
Time for Spring
Once the bulbs have been fully chilled, you can start bringing the pots out into a warmer location. To extend the show, bring out a few pots at a time. Place the bulbs in a cool place (50-55°F) and give them plenty of bright, indirect light. This will help keep the stems and foliage from flopping. Depending on how much the bulbs have grown while in cold storage, it may take 2 to 3 weeks for them to bloom.
After the flowers fade, the bulbs can be transplanted outdoors into a spot in the garden. Tulip bulbs that have been forced should be tossed as they will not bloom a second time.
To learn about planting spring-blooming bulbs in containers for outdoor display, read: How to Grow Spring Bulbs in Containers
I adore flowers. I love planting flowers, I love receiving flowers, I love pruning flowers, and I love arranging flowers. I often pick up a bright, fresh bouquet when I’m shopping at Costco, just because it makes me happy to have them in my kitchen. This is especially true during the cold winter months. My kitchen sink overlooks my little backyard. In the summer time I have a direct view of my raised garden bed where I can keep an eye on the tomatoes and the herbs and watch the flowers blooming. But in the winter, I have a great view of a giant brown heap of dirt. And perennials cut down to the ground, and dead grass. It’s lovely. And it’s what I have to stare at when I’m doing endless amounts of dishes. But right now, I have these sitting on my windowsill:
I don’t mind staring at them at all, and it makes hand picking the dried-up fruity pebbles off the cereal bowls a little more bearable. Why do dried fruity pebbles have the same holding power as industrial strength super glue?
Forcing bulbs is a way you can take garden bulbs that grow outside and grow them inside your house in the cold winter months (or any time really.) I realize that in many parts of the country, spring is already here- but just a few days ago we had a big snow storm where I live, so I’ll grasp at any hint of spring I can find.
I especially love forcing bulbs around Easter time. It’s such a beautiful symbol of growth, and rebirth, and when timed just right, it makes a gorgeous, living centerpiece to your holiday table.
Many bulbs (like hyacinth, tulips and the daffodils I’ve done above) require a chilling period, which complicates things a bit and prolongs the process (I’ll write a tutorial about that another time!) but one of the bulbs that doesn’t require this are Paperwhites. In the daffodil family, they grow clusters of little white flowers and they’re the quickest and easiest bulbs to force. They require very little maintenance and don’t even require a green thumb (even Kate could do it!) This is a great project to do with kids too; they will love keeping their eye on these bulbs and cheering at the first sight of roots, tips, and flowers.
You’ll need a container; and it can be any number of things. Glass vases work great. They look really pretty, and the glass makes it easy to monitor the water level. Once the flowers grow tall, having the glass sides helps the flowers from flopping over. Wide, shallow containers, like my blue and white one in the photo work well too. And you can even use baskets and decorative containers if they are lined with a waterproof container on the inside.
The planting material can vary from small pebbles (which can be purchased in bags, shown below, from craft or gardening stores), to glass marbles, or small stones. It’s basically just used to hold the bulbs in place.
You can purchase paperwhites at nurseries and garden supply stores, or online. They’re pretty commonly found in garden stores during the fall and winter months, because they’re popular to plant around the holidays. You should still be able to find them now, and if nothing else- they’re easily located online. Sometimes they come in large bags (with 20+ bulbs). If that’s the case, consider sharing with a friend, or starting multiple containers to giveaway, or to bunch together for a gorgeous large display.
First, fill your container with the planting material. Place the bulbs, root side down, so the pebbles cover about 1/3-1/2 the bulb. The top of the bulb looks similar to an onion, like this:
And the bottom side, looks similar to an onion as well- see the little roots coming off there? Make sure you plant that side down!
Paperwhites look good planted in mass, or as a single bulb in a smaller container.
The actual bulbs won’t change in size, so you can place them close together- just avoid having them touch if you can.
Place water in your container, so it’s just barely touching the bottom of the bulb. You don’t want the bulbs swimming in there or they will rot, so just get it barely close to the bottom. This is where a glass container comes in handy. If you’re pouring water into a tall vase, pour it carefully down the side so you don’t splash the tops of the bulbs.
Within a few days, you should notice little roots growing out the bottom. The roots will find their way to the water, growing around the stones and therefore anchoring the bulbs in place.
Then the little green tips will start to sprout out the top,
and they’ll just keep on growing. I like to gift paperwhites when they’re a few inches tall, like this:
Tie a ribbon around an inexpensive glass vase and they make a great hostess gift. You should see your first blooms within about 4-6 weeks. I forced this particular batch last fall, and somehow I’m missing all of my photos of when they’re actually in bloom! Go figure. It’s okay, Google can save the day. They have little clusters of sweet papery white flowers.
They also have a distinct smell, that people seem to either love, or hate! Once they get tall, they can sometimes get leggy and start to flop over. When they get to that point, I take a pretty ribbon and just tie it around the stems to hold them together.
Once paperwhite bulbs are forced, they can’t be forced again. If you live in a warmer garden zone (8-11) they do well outdoors, so you can plant them outside to bloom in future years, but in cooler climates, they won’t do so well so it’s best to just toss the bulbs once they’re finished blooming.
How to Force Paperwhite Narcissus Bulbs Indoors
planting container (glass vase, decorative bowl or dish, metal bucket, etc.)
small pebbles, stones, or marbles
Fill container with pebbles. Place bulbs root-side down in the pebbles so they are set in 1/3-1/2 of the way up the bulb. Add water to container, so the water just barely reaches the bottom of bulbs. Watch for roots to grow within about a week and blooms to appear within 4-6 weeks. Place in a light area, but direct sunlight is not necessary. Monitor water levels and add water so it’s always covering the bottom of the roots. If plants get tall and leggy, tie a ribbon around the stems to secure. Once bulbs are done blooming and flowers are wilted, discard plants, or if you live in a warm climate (zone 8-11) you can remove stems once brown and plant in ground to re-bloom.
When we think of holiday florals and greenery, we don’t often think of vibrant petals and delicate stems. Spruce, poinsettias, cedar, pine and eucalyptus are often our go-to fresh decor come Christmas time. However, there are two types of bulbs we love to grow for the holiday season: amaryllis and paperwhites. Anyone who has visited the shop during December knows we are well known for our big pots of Amaryllis! You too can force and grow these festive florals in your own home this winter by following these easy steps:
There are two types of Amaryllis: Christmas Flowering and Dutch. Although the name suggests it, Christmas Flowering Amaryllis do not necessarily flower on Christmas. Instead, they are grown in the Southern Hemisphere and flower within about 4 weeks from planting, making it easier to time their blooms over the holidays. Dutch Amaryllis are grown in the Northern Hemisphere and take 8 to 12 weeks to bloom. Other than the different growth and bloom rates, both types of amaryllis make a beautiful addition to your home in the winter. When it comes down to deciding with type to choose, it is often the colors and petal varieties that draw people to plant one over the other.
The most common way to force amaryllis blooms it to plant the bulbs in water in a specialized vase, like the one above, that supports the very heavy stalks of these blooms. To force in water, add just enough water to your vase as to just cover the bottom of the bulb (the root base). Be sure to gently cut off the dried up roots from the bulbs before placing in your vase. Add a few small pieces of charcoal to the water (we like to get ours from the pet store as they are used in aquariums). This is our secret to keeping the water fresh while your bulbs grow! The charcoal will filter the water and keep it from getting stagnant and smelly. New roots will grow within a few days but may take slightly longer depending on the bulb.
Once new roots are established, now is the time to plant your Amaryllis! Use a pot about the same size as the bulb, a 6″ pot is perfect. If you plant your bulb in too large or deep a pot, it will keep growing roots and not be forced to flower (which is what you want!). Plant the bulb with the top third above the soil and water well. Place in a sunny window and do not water again until you see green shoots forming. As the stem gets taller, you will need to give it some extra support using a small stick or branch and some ribbon. Continue to nurture your Amaryllis and soon you will have beautiful, festive flowers for your home!
Paperwhites often considered a staple Christmas flower. They are quick and easy to force for in time for the holidays and will bloom in about four weeks from planting.
To force Paperwhite blooms in vases, follow the same directions as Amaryllis above. If you choose to force in rocks, start by filling a container with small rocks and pebbles and a few pieces of charcoal. Trim the roots from the bulbs as you would when forcing Amaryllis. Place the bulbs in the rocks by gently pushing them down enough to make sure they are stable. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the bulb where the roots were. You don’t want to cover the entire bulb or it will rot! Simply get the bottom wet where the old roots were to trigger new roots to grow. Now, just sit back and watch! The paperwhite bulbs will root in one to two days and begin growing.
Once it is time to plant your bulbs, fill a smaller container or pot with soil (three to four inches deep). As with Amaryllis, if you use too big a container, the bulbs will continue to grow roots instead of flowering! It isn’t called it “forcing” without reason! Within a couple of weeks, you’ll have gorgeous, delicate flowers to brighten up your home this holiday season!
We’re lucky in Charleston as both of these plants will naturalize in our own backyards! Once your Amaryllis or Paperwhites are finished blooming, put the pots somewhere the flowers won’t freeze or be damaged until spring. While it’s tempting to want to cut off those less-than-attractive yellow leaves that are left after the flower has wilted, resist the urge! These dying leaves feed the bulb as it waits to be planted when the weather warms up. Only remove once the leaves are completely dead. When spring rolls around (come March or so), it’s time to plant outside! Plant your Amaryllis or Paperwhites in a sunny or partially shaded area. Cover the entire bulb with about two inches of soil. Then, let nature do her job and you’ll have more lovely flowers for years to come!