You don’t have to wait for the growing season to enjoy cheerful blossoms. Using a procedure called forcing, you can encourage spring bulbs to flower early so that you can enjoy their colorful displays indoors during winter. Listen to learn more about this delightful gardening technique.
This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.
Imagine the joy of a windowsill full of colorful and fragrant tulips, crocus, daffodils, and hyacinths weeks or even months before they will be blooming in your garden. With a little planning, you can enjoy the spring beauty of flowering bulbs all winter long and even time their flowering dates for special occasions.
When planted outdoors, bulbs receive a natural cooling period in the fall when they establish roots and then lay dormant through the winter until growth resumes in the spring. When they are forced indoors, the dormant period is eliminated, and the entire process is shortened. Bulbs can be planted inside from late September through November for winter color from Christmas to spring.
Just about any pot or container that is 4” to 6” deep and has drainage holes, can be used for forcing bulbs. Pack as many bulbs in to the pot as you want, as long as they don’t touch each other. Plant them pointed end up with a little bit of the tip showing above the soil, then soak the pots thoroughly until water runs out the drainage holes. Store the pots in a cool dark place for between 10 to 14 weeks in order for the bulbs to root. During this rooting period, check them occasionally and water as needed. Good places for bulbs to chill out may be an unheated basement, a crawl space, an old refrigerator, or covered with mulch in a cold frame.
When roots start to poke out through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and the shoots are well out of the bulbs, they are ready to bring into the house to watch grow and blossom. Once inside bulbs need cool bright conditions to produce long lasting flowers. A temperature of between 60°-65° is ideal. If you are forcing bulbs for a particular holiday or occasion, and they are progressing too quickly, move them to a cooler place with less light to slow their growth. Water your plants every day or two to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
After blooming is over, cut back the faded flowers and keep the plants growing to set out in your garden in the spring when they will once again reward you with flowers within a season or two.