Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom

The gloominess of winter can leave you longing for the vibrant colors and fresh scents of spring flowers. The time-tested method of growing bulbs known as "forcing" is an easy way to brighten up your home when it's cold and dreary outside.

Consider these tips on how to force bulbs successfully so you can have colorful, fragrant indoor blooms next winter.

Select the Bulbs You Want to Force

It's best to use plump, firm bulbs for forcing. Typically, the larger the bulb, the bigger the flower it produces. Look for quality and avoid underdeveloped bulbs, as they're less likely to flower. Technically, all bulbs can be forced; however, there are hardy and tender types that need different forcing techniques.

  • Hardy Bulbs - Popular hardy bulbs include daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses, among others. These bulbs need a chilling period of 10 to 12 weeks at 40 to 50 degrees so the roots can grow before the tops sprout. Prepare these bulbs between September and October, and store them in an unheated garage, basement, refrigerator drawer or outside in a cold frame.
  • Tender Bulbs - Flowers like freesia and amaryllis are some favorite tender bulbs. Typically grown in warmer zones, tender bulbs don't require a chilling period.

Decide on a Planting Method

There are two planting methods used to force bulbs:

  • Water Method - This method requires filling a container - like a decorative pan or bowl - with pebbles, and then burying the bulbs points halfway down. Next, add enough water to cover the bottom 1/4 of the bulbs, and check the level frequently. This method works well for tender bulbs.
  • Soil Method - It's best to store hardy bulbs in regular flower pots with potting mix. Simply place the bulbs 1/2 to 3/4 of the way down into the soil, points up, keeping the soil moist, but not wet.

Once the chilling period is over for your hardy bulbs, gradually introduce them to warmer temperatures and sunlight. After chilling is finished - or with tender bulbs - you can expect to have colorful blooms to enjoy in about 3 to 4 weeks.