How To Force Bulbs Indoors For Year-Round Blooms - Backyard Boss
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How To Force Bulbs Indoors For Year-Round Blooms

A lush garden all year long may seem far-fetched, but nature always has a workaround for each season. One such workaround is learning how to force bulbs indoors. To force your bulbs indoors properly, you must simulate their ideal outdoor environment and trick them into blooming.

If you master this life hack, you won’t have to dread waking up to bland winter days and endless amounts of snow! Add color and life to your home by learning all the tips and tricks you need to start forcing bulbs today.

What Are Bulbs?

hands holding daffodil bulbs before planting in the ground
Image credits: S.O.E via Shutterstock

Flower bulbs are round onion-like structures that bloom when you plant them. These fleshy orbs are underground storage facilities for plants because they contain a plant’s complete life cycle, including the nutrients it needs to grow. Most flowers that grow from bulbs are perennials.

Blooming is a very time-sensitive issue for bulbs, which is why they are further divided by the season of their flower development:

Hardy Bulbs

Hardy bulbs, also known as spring-flowering bulbs, include crocus, daffodils, iris, lilies, and tulips. These bulbs require a period of cold exposure to break their dormancy and begin flowering. If planted properly, hardy bulbs are low-maintenance and assure a generous show of blooms every spring.

Tender Bulbs

Tender bulbs, including begonias, dahlias, and gladiolus, are planted in spring to bloom in summer. But, unlike hardy bulbs, these fleshy tubers can’t survive cold temperatures and should be stored indoors during winter.

Fun fact: Not all flower bulbs are true bulbs. Corms, tuberous roots, and rhizomes are commonly called flower bulbs.

What Is Forcing?

planting bulbous plants - crocus, tulips for forcing spring
Image credits: Sentelia via Shutterstock

Forcing bulbs to bloom is a technique to manipulate a plant’s bloom time by simulating the ideal outdoor environment. Essentially, you’re tricking the bulbs into thinking that it is spring and that they can now end their dormancy. Adjusting their environmental conditions can encourage an earlier blooming time for hardy bulbs.

List of Hardy and Tender Bulbs

Here’s a handy list of hardy and tender bulbs you can use when forcing bulbs.

Name Type
Madonna lily Hardy
Resurrection lily Hardy
Onion Hardy
Windflower Hardy
Quamash Hardy
GIory-of-the-snow Hardy
Crocus Hardy
Winter Aconite Hardy
Fritillaria Hardy
Giant Snowdrop Hardy
Garden Hyacinth Hardy
Spring Starflower Hardy
Iris Hardy
Snowflakes Hardy
Grape Hyacinth Hardy
Daffodil (small) Hardy
Daffodil (large) Hardy
Ornithogalum Hardy
Stripped Squill Hardy
Squill Hardy
Tulip Hardy
Canna Tender
Elephant’s Ear Tender
Dahlia Tender
Gladiolus Tender
Lily Hardy
Tuberose Tender
Calla lily Tender
Begonia Tender
Purple Allium Hardy
Greek Anemone Hardy
Freesia Tender
Caladium Tender
Oxalis Tender
Paperwhite Narcissus Tender
Amaryllis Tender

Three Ways to Force Bulbs Indoors 

There are three ways to force bulbs indoors. You can force them in water, in soil, and without chilling. The method you use depends on the bulbs you choose; however, many bulbs can be forced using multiple methods. You’ll need to pick a method that works for you.

1. Forcing Bulbs Indoors in Water

Growing hyacinth flower bulb in pot
Image credits: Ruggiero Scardigno via Shutterstock

Some bulbs that you can force in water include:

  1. Hyacinth
  2. Daffodil
  3. Paperwhite narcissus (especially Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’)
  4. Crocus
  5. Tulip

What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial

A small jam jar or vase Bulbs
Toothpicks (Optional) Clean water

Step-by-Step Instructions for Forcing Bulbs in Water

Step 1

Fill your small jar or vase with water up to the narrowest part. Leave space for the bulb and ensure it isn’t fully submerged. Full immersion in water can lead to rot.

Step 2

Place your bulb on the jar or vase with the pointed end facing up. If the jar’s opening is big enough that your bulb will fall in, stick three or four toothpicks evenly around the bulb to help it balance on the jar. The toothpicks will prevent the bulb from falling into the jar.

Step 3

Place your bulb in a dark and cold room with temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (a garage or shed will work, too). If you can’t find a suitable place, cover the bulb and jar with a cardboard box or dark plastic bag. Ensure the covers don’t make direct contact with the bulb.

Step 4

Keep the bulb in a cool, dark place until it develops roots, which should take four to six weeks.

Step 5

Periodically check the bulb and add water if it has reduced.

Step 6

After the bulb develops roots, you’ll see a green shoot emerging from the bulb. Once this green shoot measures between 3 and 4 inches, move the bulb into the light. Find a spot indoors that receives lots of light and watch the bulb bloom!

2. Forcing Bulbs Indoors in Soil

flower bulbs sitting in two square white planters
Image credits: PublicDomainPictures via Pixaby

Some bulbs you can force in soil pots include:

  1. Hyacinth
  2. Daffodil
  3. Paperwhite narcissus
  4. Tulip
  5. Muscari
  6. Snowdrops
  7. Siberian Squill
  8. Iris

What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial

Large bulbs Pot (4 to 8 inches in diameter) with drainage holes.
Well-draining potting soil Clean water

Step-By-Step Instructions for Forcing Bulbs in Soil

Step 1

Fill your pot with well-draining soil and place your bulbs at the level stipulated on their packaging. Ideally, tulips and hyacinths should be covered up to their tips. Daffodils should be covered halfway, with one-half of the bulb still above the soil. Smaller bulbs should be planted 1 inch slightly below the soil.

Step 2

Depending on the size of the bulbs and pots, plant between four to eight bulbs in the soil. Don’t overcrowd the pot.

Step 3

Label the pot with the bulb’s name and the date you planted them.

Step 4

Water the soil until it seeps through the drainage holes.

Step 5

Place the bulbs in a room with temperatures between 35 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. You can place the pots in the basement, cold frame, or refrigerator. Water the pots periodically to keep the soil moist.

Step 6

After 12 to 14 weeks in the cold, bring your bulbs indoors to start forcing. For the first two weeks, place them in a cooler area with temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and avoid heat or direct sunlight.

Step 7

When the flower buds have almost completed developing, move the pots wherever you want to see them bloom! You can enhance the longevity of the blooms by placing the bulb pots in a cool room at night.

3. Forcing Bulbs Indoors Without Chilling

Growing an orchid from a bulb at home
Image credits: Siberian_photo via Shutterstock

Not all bulbs need a cold shock to recalibrate their blooming time. Some bulbs you can force indoors without cooling include:

  1. Amaryllis
  2. Allium
  3. Paperwhite narcissus

What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial

A  bowl (2 to 3 inches deep) Bulbs
Coarse sand, pearl chips, pea gravel, or pebbles Clean water

Step-By-Step Instructions for Forcing Bulbs Without Chilling

Step 1

Fill your bowl with coarse sand, pearl chips, pea gravel, or pebbles until they reach 1 inch below the top rim.

Step 2

Pour water until it’s just under the gravel, pebbles, chips, or sand surface.

Step 3

Make tiny holes in the gravel, just enough to support the bottom quarter of the bulb, and then place your bulbs on top. You must maintain that level of water because too much can cause rot.

Step 4

Keep the bowl in a dark room with temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 5

After two to three weeks, if you see roots and shoots from the bulbs, you can place them in a sunnier area with warmer temperatures. Remember to make this transition gradual so you don’t stress the plant. If the bulbs become too tall and heavy, support them with stakes, so they don’t tip over.

Hosta La Vista, Daisy!

Bulbs are neat little things, aren’t they? Self-sustaining and adaptive, their attentiveness to the environment is remarkable!

Besides breathing life into your interiors and helping you stay connected to nature, forcing bulbs indoors will let you enjoy your favorite bloom throughout the year and lift you in the dead of winter. Remember to keep an eye on your bulbs, the water levels, moisture, and temperatures for successful blooms.

As always, leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section! And share with friends and family who might find this helpful.

Happy gardening!