Cleaning out my garage this past weekend resulted in a yield of goodies that had been overlooked and ‘set aside for future use’, including a few bulbs of Paperwhites that had evidently fallen out of the bag I had stored in the fridge last year before planting in later winter (I live in Southeastern New Mexico and if you plant them in the fall they might make an appearance WAY earlier than planned). Not only had the bulbs stayed dormant, they were starting to make a push to freedom with little tops starting to barely show.
And what a perfect time to learn how to grow bulbs indoors in time to bloom for the holidays! Cheerful spring blooms aren’t only for spring anymore. You can easily trick your favorite bulbs into bloom for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and to combat those winter blues with a little bit of foresight and planning.
You don’t need much to force your bulbs into happy, bright blooms other than an early plan and a few simple supplies. Depending on the type of bulb you decide upon, you could have flowers in as little as 8 to 10 weeks after a period of dormancy. Read on to see how simple it is to bring your favorite fragrant beauties to life, and which of your choices bloom when.
SIMPLE NEEDS TO BRING BLOOMS TO LIFE
There are only a few things you really need to force your bulbs each winter, and chances are you may already have almost everything you need somewhere to get started.
SPRING BULBS OF YOUR CHOICE
At the end of this article you’ll find more detailed information concerning which bulbs need what kind of care and how long they take to reach a blooming stage so you can plan accordingly. But regardless, finding plump, healthy looking bulbs with a full tunic clear of cuts, breaks, or any type of rot is what you want to be on the lookout for. Purchasing bulbs online from reputable sources is generally the best way to go. If you aren’t interested in buying a large amount of bulbs at a time, keeping back a prior year’s selection of choice picks, or just buying some cheap fall bulbs from the local garden store can be a great alternative to try this out, especially if it is your first time giving it a go. Then you can pick out the best bulbs for your winter planting.
Bulbs can be stored for up to a year (or longer) if stored properly, so if you’d like to force a few from last fall’s planting the next year you should be good to go. Proper storage includes keeping them in a container with dry materials, and in a cool dark place generally will keep them through the year just fine. Bulbs contain everything they need in the way of nutrients to grow. They are a variable storehouse of food and don’t need much care either before, or after planting.
Show off your blooms in unique and interesting containers. Since bulbs can be grown in a planting compound, in rocks, or just shallow water – you can get creative un how you decide to show them off. Things like old tea cups, buckets, utensil caddies, shallow dishes, ornamental pots, flower vases, bulb vases, and water pitchers are a few artistic selections you can choose from. If you are feeling creative, visit a local antique or second hand store and some treasures to recycle.
I personally like to use a potting soil to keep a moist environment for my bulbs so I don’t have to watch how often I water too closely (since I’m lazy about houseplants). But you can use rocks, or just water, in the correct containers to force your bulbs as well. These techniques will be described below briefly as well.
PLANT YOUR BULBS
Forcing bulbs is such a simple process that truly anyone can do it with a minimum amount of time and effort. In fact, you’ll probably spend more time choosing your bulbs and trying to decide how you want to mix and match them and which containers you want to place where in your house. Follow the steps below to get started on providing color and fragrance throughout the winter.
STEP 1: SELECT BULBS
Just about any hardy bulb, and even a few tender bulbs, can be forced to bloom through the winter. You can select a few, or a lot (the more the better!), of a selection of different blooms, or just pick a few choice favorites.
It’s important to remember that different bulbs bloom require different care, and bloom at different times. I’ll explain a few of the most popular choices that are easily purchased both online and at local garden centers each fall.
HYACINTH AND CROCUS
Some of the earliest bloomers each spring, crocus and hyacinths must be chilled for 12-15 weeks respectfully, and then can be planted in soils, or even individually with just water in special bulb vases. Once warmed, these flowers will make an appearance in as few as two weeks.
FREESIA, RANUNCULUS, AND PAPERWHITE
Although these bulbs do not technically need any chilling, they do need cooler temps and time to root before flowering. To mimic a cool night place in a root cellar, or even your refrigerator for the evening to help bring them to color. Popular with forcing enthusiast due to their ease of keep, freesia will take about 14 weeks from planting to bloom, and ranunculus and paperwhites 5 to 7. Ranunculus have a large rooting system, so be sure to plant them in a container that can deal with their growth.
DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, AND TULIP
Daffodils and narcissus need to be chilled for 16 weeks, tulips 14 to 20, which make them ideal choices to pair together. Both will bloom within 2 to 3 weeks later and a variety of different colors and sizes are available for added interest. Bulbs are typically larger in size, so be sure to provide them a larger pot if you are mixing and matching.
GLADIOLUS AND AMARYLLIS
These are both large bulbs and even larger plants, so having a decent sized pot (especially if you plant more than one bulb at a time) and room for them to go up is a must. You will also want to provide support for the stalks of the plants as well to keep the weight of the heads from tipping them over. Using tall bud vases can be helpful in providing support as well, and buds will begin to show in 4 to 5 weeks with blooms to follow. These plants LOVE sun, and can handle a very sunny local unlike most of the other plants described.
CALLA LILIES AND CALADIUM
As a warm weather exotic, calla lilies are typically a houseplant anyway, and can easily be bought as such. But if you have bulbs, they are simple enough to grow following the directions provided below and leaves should make a showing within 3 to 5 weeks, with blooms following shortly thereafter once established.
Caladium are also a warm weather exotic and does well planted with other like minded vegetation. Like calla lilies, plant in well drained soils and allow to grow naturally. This isn’t flowering plant, but has a showy and colorful leaf.
GARLIC AND ONIONS
You can grow these at anytime of year, as they are easy to propagate indoors. SImply treat them as you would any other bulb with a cooling off period and plant tip up in a well draining soil. If you are looking to harvest bulbs for use, you’ll need a deep pot, but both are easy to transplant outdoors as well into an established garden once it has warmed in the spring. Remember, they like sun and warmth to finish off their harvest, so be sure to keep them in a warm environment as they begin to mature to get an optimal harvest bulb yield. If you are simply looking to harvest the greens then cut what you need after growth begins and allow it to continue to produce indoors.
STEP 2: PROVIDE A STATE OF DORMANCY
When chilling your bulbs (if required), as mentioned above, you are tricking them into thinking that the winter has come and passed, and it is time to come out of dormancy for the season. My favorite place to store them in the arid, dry climate I live in, is in the refrigerator. Simply spread them in dry material and place in a flat container. I prefer to cover them with paper towels and then forget about them on the bottom shelf until I’m ready to plant.
Cellars, sheds, and garages that cool off are also good choices depending on how cool they get. Ideally temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees are what you are looking for. Note that you can also chill your bulbs after planting in your containers if you are using soils. But since the refrigerator is my favorite choice, fitting all those containers in there doesn’t work out so well…
STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR CONTAINER AND FILL
As mentioned above, you can get rather creative with your containers. No need to stick with traditional pots for this garden. Instead, mix and match your containers, flowers, and bloom times to keep a burst of color and fragrance to beat those winter blues. Be sure to provide the correct sizes for the bulbs you have chosen, and enough room for all the bulbs you want to use without overcrowding.
Potting soil provides what your bulbs need once they take root to help stabilize them and keep them well watered. But since bulbs provide their own nutrients, you can get creative with your planting compound as long as they receive the water they need through their growth and bloom time.
Bulbs can look rather elegant when planted in decorative rock as well. And because of their unique ability to store all their food, they don’t need to depend upon soils to provide any food. To do this prove a shallow 2 to 3 inch depth of the rock of your choice, and then fill with water to just below the top of the rock line.
STEP 4: PLANT BULBS
When planting your bulbs, place them no more than an inch away from one another (but never touching to avoid inadvertently causing rot), and plant as many as you can in each container for a ‘wow’ factor once they bloom. The tips of each bulbs should be poking out of the soil and be kept uncovered.
If you are settling bulbs on rocks, or in bulb vases, and want to know how to grow bulbs indoors in water – only allow the root tips to reach into the water. They will grow into the water as the bulb matures and gets ready to bloom, and the bulbs will stay high and dry.
STEP 5: PROVIDE LIGHT AND WATER
Put your planted bulb where they will get plenty of indirect light, and keep soils moistened, or water where roots can grow into. If you can continue to keep them in a cooler local until they begin to push their heads up, that is ideal as it allows the roots to fully develop and create a strong, more vigorous plant. Don’t let your growing bulb get too much sunlight, or direct sun (unless it’s a species that thrives with the added heat such as amaryllis or gladiolas) as it may warm them too much and curtail blooming. Plus cooler temps will allow blooms to last longer once they begin to show!
*You might also like: Everything You Need To Know About Growing Plants Under Lights.
STEP 6: MAKE IT FESTIVE!
I can’t help it. I planned my Paperwhites to be in bloom by Christmas Time, so I had to break out some decorations! Since bulbs take awhile to get established, grow, and begin to bloom, make them a part of the decor and spruce them up.
Just be sure to keep your bulbs free from anything covering their tips so they can grow unhindered. My decorative bulbs are placed around where they will sprout and will hopefully provide a nice contrast to the fragrant white flowers I am looking forward to!
READY TO GET STARTED?!
Forcing your bulbs to bloom out of season is an easy task and one you should definitely give a try! Remember to pay attention to the type of bulbs you are using to make sure they get a sufficient period of cooling in order to produce healthy, long lasting blooms.
Well drained soils or sufficient water depths are important to provide a foundation for root development, and then all you really need to do is sit back and wait for greenery to appear, followed by blooms within a few weeks!
Have any indoor bulb growing tips you’d like to share? Or have any questions about your choices? Feel free to comment below and and share this article with others!