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Step by Step: Forcing Bulbs Indoors

Paperwhites are a holiday favorite.
Paperwhites are a holiday favorite.

Bulbs seem like a mystery: how do they produce all that greenery and color from such a small vessel–and in such a short amount of time?

The great versatility of bulbs means one can enjoy them in the landscape, whether it be beds, borders, or pots. Did you know, though, that they’re lovely indoors, as well? Through the ‘magic’ of forcing, we can cause them to bring their beauty and mystery up close for seasonal enjoyment.

We have many choices for your indoor show of blooms:

Paperwhite varieties of Narcissus are the standard when it comes to having a blooming bulb indoors. Possessing probably the strongest fragrance of these bulbs, they can fill an entire home easily with their scent. Groups of these in shallow containers bring instant, crisp drama to any table setting.

Hyacinths are another bulb that’s a classic for forcing with their bright blues and whites and strong, sweet fragrance. We have deep red and candy pink varieties here, as well. Keep them chilled until ready to plant.

You can use almost any container for forcing bulbs
You can use almost any container for forcing bulbs.

When to plant?

That depends on when you’d like them blooming for guests and holiday table displays. Most of these will bloom in about 5-6 weeks with hyacinths taking slightly longer, at about 7 weeks. If you’re thinking of creating a large display of forced bulbs, select those bulbs that each have about the same amount of green tip showing when you purchase them.

Containers?

From single, old-fashioned bulb glasses to standard terracotta pots, trays and saucers, containers exist to suit any style. Bulbs lend themselves easily to the most modern and architectural of styles, or can be classically displayed in cachepots made just for them.

Since bulbs do their growing and blooming so quickly indoors, most any container will do, and drainage isn’t necessary. Smaller bulbs like the paperwhites look lovely grouped in large bowls. Bulkier bulbs like Amaryllis benefit from being in larger, sturdier containers to balance their taller stems and heavier blossoms. Once planted, Amaryllis benefits from being turned every few days to promote more upright blooms.

Amaryllis bulbs are easy to force in to bloom.
Amaryllis bulbs are one of the largest and easy to force in to bloom.

How to care for your bulbs

Whichever bulb you choose, a quick, 20-minute soak in a seaweed solution can help a bulb bloom more quickly. If you’ve chosen to force your bulbs in water, they should never be allowed to dry out once growth begins. Keep the water ½ inch below the bottom of the bulb, and change it often. If in soil, water sparingly until growth begins, then simply keep them moist, but not wet.

Paperwhite Forcing Vase
Paperwhites can be forced with just water.

Put your bulb display near a sunny window until blooming time arrives. Once it’s begun, you can move it to a more prominent location.  Once paperwhites bloom, remove the faded blooms, and these can be planted outside. Hyacinths can be discarded, and if you’ve selected several, you can keep some going throughout the winter months. The larger Amaryllis can be treated as a perennial and planted out or kept in a pot.

Learn more tips on planting bulbs with our guide Successful Blooming Bulbs.

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