Force Bulbs – Bloom Any Time of Year Indoors

We are now in the cold, dark months of winter. The holidays are over, and there are no more fun things to do. When you wake up and look out the window, all you see is snow or January, which looks boring. During these months, houseplants are especially welcome because they help make up for the gray, gloomy view outside your window. Need to get better? With paperwhites and other bulbs, forcing them indoors is a great way to add some color and cheer into your house throughout the winter months.

Tips for Force Bulbs

Paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis, and hyacinth are the most popular bulbs to force for Christmas. The paperwhites have small clusters of white and yellow flowers that smell sweet and are very delicate. Amaryllis is a big bulb that grows into a big plant with big, colorful flowers. Red is a natural choice for the holidays, but white is a fresh choice that can last through the New Year. “Apple Blossom,” a fresh pink/peach color, is our favorite. Hyancinths need the most planning ahead of time, but their fragrant white, pink, and blue blooms are worth it. (For the holidays, we like the white better!)


Photo on The Garden Glove

Where to Buy Resources for Bulbs?

This is one of the hardest parts of forcing bulbs, to be honest. It’s possible that you’ll receive something that has been damaged due to improper transportation or packaging if you shop online from an unreliable supplier. If you do decide to buy bulbs online, make sure to look at more than one store and read reviews. Also, look for bulbs that have already been chilled. These will save you even more time because you won’t have to wait as long for them to bloom.

Sticking with local plant nurseries is another great way to find bulbs. Most garden shops have a wide range of ready-to-force bulbs that have already been chilled. You can even find beautiful arrangements of bulbs that have already been planted and are just waiting for you to take them home.


Photo by Ahlin, Ewa/Getty Images

How to Force Paperwhites

With some decorative gravel or stones and a glass container, it’s easy to force paperwhites to grow. When you grow bulbs in glass, you can watch the roots grow, which gives the plant a more natural look. Plus, it’s just cool. 😉 We like to use a taller pot to help the plants stay steady as they grow. We also add a little charcoal from the indoor plants section to keep the water smelling nice.

Buy bulbs that are firm, full, and free of flaws. Quality is important when forcing in particular. Here lies a disagreement… The traditional type of paper whites is called “Zika,” and they are known to have a very “select” smell. In gardening, it’s one of those things that you either love or hate. I happen to be in the second group. We’re lucky that there are types that smell much less strong. The one we like best is called “Inbar.” They are also a little shorter than the paper whites you buy at the store, so they are less likely to fall over. But remember that “Inbar” likes to be forced in dirt, not water.


Photo on Longfield Gardens

The ‘Zika’ variety, on the other hand, is cheap and easy to find, and it blooms a lot. It is easy to grow, and it doesn’t mind if you make mistakes. Also, it tends to bloom a little bit earlier… So, if you don’t mind the smell, there’s a reason why it’s the most popular kind.

Put two inches of clean, washed pebbles in your vase. Add one or two tablespoons of washed charcoal and then more pebbles. Put bulbs on top with the roots facing down and close to each other. Add just enough warm water to reach the bulbs’ bottoms. When the level drops by a quarter inch, add more. Keep in a cool, dark place for 7–10 days until good roots form. Then move to a warmer, brighter place.


Photo on Longfield Gardens

On the internet, there is a tip about how to keep stems from falling over. There is a theory that the stems will grow straighter and stronger if you mix equal parts water and vodka. We can’t say that this has worked for us, but a lot of people who have grown bulbs before swear by it. And to be honest, it’s kind of a pricey way to water your plants. Don’t forget that you can stake your bulbs if they don’t grow. We suggest giving them bright light while they are budding and turning the vase every day to keep this from happening.

You might want to force in soil for the plants that like it or to make gifts easier to move. Plant the bulbs just below the surface of potting soil that drains well in a pot of your choice. Water well and keep the soil damp. Put somewhere cool for 7–10 days, until roots start to grow, and then move to a bright, warm place.


Photo on The Garden Glove

This is what our paperwhites looked like after about two weeks last year. Look at how close the water is to the bottom of the bulb.

Paperwhites bloom in four to six weeks, so if you want to plant them as gifts, count backwards from the time you want to give the gift. Note: Learn from what we did wrong. We skipped the step of getting the plants to grow roots by putting them straight into sun-filled windows. As a result, we didn’t get as many blooms as we had in previous years.


Photo on The Garden Glove

Another Bulbs-force – Amaryllis

Put the amaryllis in a shallow, water-tight container. Add charcoal bits until the container is two-thirds full. Fill with a little bit of warm water, just enough to cover the pebbles. You don’t need gravel to force Amaryllis if you have a special vase that fits the bulb snugly. Place one Amaryllis bulb, root side down, on top of the pebbles. Try to buy a bulb with roots that look fleshy and healthy. Add more pebbles until you get to the neck of the bulb to give it support as it grows. As needed, add water so that the level of water is just below the bottom of the bulb. Every few days, you can check the level by sticking your finger down into the pebbles. The water level should be where the picture on the left shows. The water level in the picture on the right is too high, and the bulb will rot. Parade took the picture.


Photo by Parade

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Amaryllis can also be grown in soil. Use soil that drains well and plant the bulbs close together in the pot. Don’t cover the top third of the bulb. After giving it a lot of water, don’t give it any more until you see signs of life.

Amaryllis bloom between six and eight weeks after planting. So far, it seems pretty easy to learn how to force bulbs, right?


Photo by Sturtz and Copeland

Force Bulbs With Hyacinths

Forcing hyacinths to bloom takes some work because the bulbs need to be chilled for 12 to 13 weeks before they can be planted. Some nurseries sell bulbs that have already been chilled, but you should still put them in the fridge in a paper bag for two to three weeks before planting them. Tip: Don’t put bulbs and fruit in the same fridge. Fruit that is getting ready to ripen gives off ethylene gas, which hurts bulbs and makes them not bloom as well.

Hyacinths can be forced in a vase with water, stones, or soil one inch below the surface. Make sure it’s in a dark, cool spot until it grows to a height of 2 inches or so. Then move to a window with bright, indirect light and a cool temperature. (Keep the soil in potted bulbs just a little damp.)


Photo by The Handyman’s Daughter

Tip: If you want to force hyacinths in water, don’t fill the vase all the way up to the top of the bulb. Once the roots come out, the plant shouldn’t touch the bulb. The roots will grow deep enough to reach the water.

All done! Stock up on bulbs during the fall sales, and learn how to force bulbs! Plant a few extra bulbs if you want to give them as gifts or use them to decorate for the holidays. You can also plant a few bulbs every two weeks to keep bulbs blooming all the way until spring, or if you just want to change the dull atmosphere of winter. If you enjoyed this post and want to look up more home garden ideas, check out my blog Home Garden topic here!


Photo by Satori Design for Living