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How To Force Bulbs for Gorgeous Indoor Bloom and Color

From the Editors of Traditional Home
  • Baby, it’s cold outside! Bring warmth and cheer to blustery days by forcing bulbs into early bloom. Here’s how.

    For Amaryllis to perform at their very best, they require warm temperatures, strong light and water.

    If you receive amaryllis bulbs with dry roots, you can actually soak them in tepid water for a few hours to re-hydrate them.

    All tips and images are courtesy of Dig.Drop.Done.

  • Get creative mixing and matching bulbs in one container. Just remember they may have different bloom times. Here, a wintry white mix of amaryllis and hyacinths brighten a side table.

  • If you love to look at amaryllis blooms but not the unattractive bulb, disguise it with a double-walled vase. Plant your amaryllis in a glass vase slightly larger that the bulb. Place the small vase inside a vase that is two-times larger. Fill the space in between with pebbles, potpourri, holiday candy, ornaments, fruit or pinecones.

  • Grow amaryllis for cut flowers. Once the potted plant blooms, snip off short blooms for a low arrangement or keep stems long for an elegant bouquet.

    If you keep your forced bulbs growing till spring, you can plant them outside where they will usually recover to bloom again, eventually.

  • Plant in masses for a striking holiday centerpiece. Plant five amaryllis bulbs in a round container or choose an elongated tray that will serve as a table runner. Have fun with the colors. Consider using reds or stripes on the outside and white in the middle.

  • Minimal work equals maximum drama when you plant one tulip bulb per parfait glass.

    To force tulips, fill a container with soil to about 3-4 inches below the rim. Place pre-chilled bulbs on top of the soil, pointy end up. Fill container with soil so the tips of bulbs show. Water once a week and keep in your storage location. Once leaves appear, bring them out and place them in a location where they will get bright but indirect light. Flowering will take place in 2-3 weeks after being brought into the light.

  • Metallics are in this holiday season. If you don’t have a metallic container handy, spray paint an existing one silver, gold or bronze to complement your bulbs.  Here, dwarf iris sparkle in an open silver bowl.

  • To force a hyacinth without soil, use a forcing glass to suspend the bulb over a small vase of water. When roots fill the glass and there’s an inch or two of top-growth, bring it into subdued light and warmer, but still cool temperatures (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit). After 7 to 10 days, move it into bright light, but keep it as cool as you can and avoid direct sunlight. Turn it every day to keep it growing upright.

  • To chill bulbs for forcing, place them in a paper bag and set in a dark, cold place for 10 to 16 weeks; approximately 10 to 12 weeks for muscari; 12 weeks for daffodils and crocus; 16 weeks for tulips and hyacinths. The temperature should be 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be in an unheated mudroom, attic, garage, cold-frame, or your refrigerator; though many refrigerators are too cold for optimal forcing. Avoid freezing temperatures. The best way to monitor the temperature is to use a maximum-minimum thermometer available at garden centers.

  • Dress up forced bulb containers for special occasions. Here, savoy cabbage leaves and ribbon take potted muscari to white-tie status.

  • When planting any forced bulb, it’s best to cover the bulb with soil but leave the “noses” exposed. Don't let the soil dry out.

    If you chill bulbs in a refrigerator, be sure not to store any apples or other fruits alongside your bulbs. Ripening fruit naturally gives off ethylene gas, which will kill the flower inside the bulbs.

  • Give a growing gift. Amaryllis take up to eight weeks to bloom and paperwhites take six. Start planting November 1 so you can give a gift that can be enjoyed during the holidays.

  • If you love amaryllis but want something a little different, try an atypical variety, commonly found through online retailers. Amaryllis can grow very tall (20 inches). If you are looking for something a little shorter, try planting miniature amaryllis,  such as this amaryllis emerald, which grows to about 16 inches.

  • Another atypical variety is the double amaryllis, which produces gorgeous blooms. Try the Double Dragon, pictured here.

  • Go for two tones with a striped amaryllis, such as this Hippeastrum Dancing Queen. It produces huge, peony-like white flowers with red flashes. 

  • Cybister or Spider Amarayllis are definitely an unusual variety. They take longer to bloom, about eight to ten weeks, and produce a spidery flower.  Their blossoms unfurl into curly, spiky or frilly edged petals in striking color combinations such as burgundy and green; green, white and red; brownish-orange; deep pink, creamy white and burgundy. Try the La Paz variety.

  • When planting bulbs in water with stones, add a drop of bleach to the water. This will kill the bacteria and help the water stay clearer for a longer time.

  • When planting, don’t fill the container full with soil. Leave room for watering. If not, the pot can overflow and spill soil.

  • Through the looking glass: For a distinctive look, force bulbs in tall glass containers. Don’t assume the bulbs should be in the pot and the blooms should reach all the way outside it.

  • Anything can be a container—even your pots and pans. (Remember you don’t need a drainage hole when you’re forcing bulbs indoors.) Wouldn’t this look cheery in a breakfast room?