February 26, 2024

Forcing Flowering Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Winter Blooming Bulbs

Winter Blooming Bulbs

Did you know you can grow your favorite flowering spring bulbs indoors?

In many parts of the country, frost is already on your windowpane and you dread that soon, your once flower laden view from the kitchen window is will appear just plain dreary?  At this time of the year you may be asking yourself “What it is a cooped-up gardener to do?  Well here is an idea.  Raise flowering bulbs inside!

Yes, the same types of bulbs you planted outdoors this fall.  The ones that won’t poke their heads up out of the ground until spring can be blooming in your house all winter.  Whether you like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and even some unusual kinds of bulbs, they are sure to brighten your heart and your home.

“Forcing” bulbs to bloom inside flower pots in your house is quite simple and great fun!  They are sure to help you feel better as the bright colors and sweet scents they bring are guaranteed to cheer up anyone who has cabin fever.

Pots of blooming indoor bulbs also make great gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah or just to banish winter doldrums, right on up through Valentine’s Day (read on for details on a free flowering bulbs gift project).  As long as the rooms they are displayed in are not overheated, the early blooming bulbs will be gratifyingly long lasting.

Are you ready to give it a try?

Here’s what you’ll need:

Good quality bulbs.  Get them at your local garden center or order from a fall bulbs catalog or the online equivalent.  Either way, inspect each bulb carefully before planting, using only bulbs that are firm and crisp.  Return or discard ones that appear soft or are rotting.

Plant bulbs in a flower potFlower pots.  Different bulbs have different requirements, but generally speaking, a plastic pot or tray that is broad and several inches deep to accommodate their root systems, is fine.  A drainage hole is a must, so excess moisture can escape.  You may need two or more pots, depending upon your plans.

Growing medium.  Sterile potting mix is ideal, because it’s a light and welcoming and contains no organisms that could cause your bulbs to spoil.  One 2-quart bag should be enough for a few pots.  Special note: paper whites may be raised in pebbles or gravel.  Hyacinths and crocuses can be raised in mix, but also grow and bloom in nothing but a glass of water if the top half of the bulb is not the immersed.  Special fluted “ jars” are available, often wherever bulbs are sold.

Labels.  If you are potting more than one kind of bulb in different pots, it’s easy to mix them up before they bloom.  So be sure to write each type of bulb, as well as the date planted, on the label.  You can also use masking tape or a popsicle stick as markers, but mark each flower pot to avoid confusion.  This is especially helpful if you are staggering plants for blooms all winter.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1

Pot the bulbs.  Fill the pot almost full with the moistened potting mix.  Then,Pot the bulbs using your thumb, create a shallow hole for each bulb and plant it right side up.  Usually, the pointy end should face up.  If you’re not sure are, look for the beginnings of a roots in the bottoms or base of the bulbs, which are also often flatter than the tops.

Forced bulbs don’t need to be planted as deeply as outdoor bulbs, 1 or 2 inches deep is usually fine, make sure to leave a bit of the bulb’s tip showing.  Also, it’s OK to crowd bulbs in a pot, whether they the same kind or mix and match bulbs; just make sure they are not touching.  You can ring them around the perimeter and tuck a few in the middle for a full display or line them in a row for a long narrow container.  Now, while you are planting is when you’ll want to label each pot with the type of bulb and the planting date.

Step 2

Chill the plantings.  When outdoors, fall planted bulbs get a natural winter chilling.  For your indoor bulbs, you need to mimic these conditions in order to inspire them to start growing.  Place the pots in a dark cool (but not freezing) site.  Somewhere around 35° to 45° Fahrenheit for the first 12 to 20 weeks is perfect.  Consider sites such as on the steps going down to the basement, in an unheated sun porch, in your garage, or even in your refrigerator.  An outdoor cold frame is also an excellent choice.

Step 3

Check on them.  Once or twice a week is enough, check to make sure the growing medium has not dried out.  Give bulbs a light watering if they are dry.  It may take from 6 to 10 weeks for green growth to appear.  Watch for sprouts, as well as for white roots coming out of the pots bottom.

Transition sprouting bulbsStep 4

Transition.  When you see sprouts in the pot with growth of about an inch high, move the pot into a cool dimly lit room for a week or two.  This allows growth to continue to ramp up at a gradual rate.  Stems and flower buds should become evident.  Water as needed.

Step 5

Move into light.  At the end of the transition period, move your potted bulbs into a brighter room and they’ll bloom in 4 to 6 weeks.  Keep growing medium lightly moistened to fuel growth.  A slender stake can be used if the stems are tall or top heavy.

Step 6

Give Bulbs a Second Chance.  When blooming is over, you can either retire the spent exhausted bulbs to your compost pile if you have one.  Or, If you’d like to try saving them, allow the foliage to die back naturally (This transfers food reserves into the bulbs).  Then plant them outdoors, once the ground and weather have warmed.  You can expect the tired bulbs to take a year off while they recover, (the exception is hybrid tulips, once forced, they will not bloom again.)

This is so easy to do and you’ll be gratified all winter long with your indoor flower garden.


P.S.  To receive the Paperwhites project mentioned above, sign up for our projects newsletter and receive new gardening projects weekly.

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