How to force bulbs to brighten your winter

How to force bulbs to brighten your winter

Depending on where you live, it can get quite cold and gray during the winter, which could leave anyone begging for a little color to enjoy. Insert the forced lamp. It’s an easy way to trick your favorite bulb-grown flowers, like paperwhites, daffodils and amaryllis, into thinking it’s spring and blooming indoors over the winter.

Fortunately, learning how to force lights is a very easy task. All you need is a little preparation and a little patience to enjoy the gorgeous blooms later this winter.

The best bulbs to force it to flower

Forced bulbs are a popular addition to holiday decor, with dramatic amaryllis and pretty white paper the most popular impact choices. But most bulbs that bloom in the spring may have to bloom in the winter. Hyacinths and daffodils are usually considered the easiest to force, but tulips, snowdrops, crocuses and anemones can also be forced to flower.

How to force bulbs for some winter color

You’ll need to plan ahead for forcing the bulbs, as most flowers require two to four months of chilling before you can take them out and allow them to grow and bloom, according to the New York Botanical Gardens. September to November is the ideal time to start planting bulbs, depending on when you want them to bloom. Here’s what you need to do to force the bulbs:

1. Choose the appropriate container

You will need a pot that is large enough to accommodate the bulb three to four inches for the roots below the bulb, and that has drainage holes to allow excess water to drain. Otherwise you risk the bulb rotting if it is allowed to remain in too wet soil.

2. Plant your bulbs

Fill the pots with moist soil. You can plant the bulbs close together, with the root side down. Small bulbs can be covered with a thin layer of dirt, but you can leave the tip of the larger bulb outside of the dirt.

3. Give your bulbs a taste of winter

You need to keep your lights in a cool, dark environment that simulates winter weather. The temperature should be consistently below 50 degrees, but should not drop below freezing. You can place your pots in an unheated garage, in a cold frame, or even in the refrigerator to create the right environment.

Fruit that produces ethylene, such as apples, can interfere with bulb growth, so keep bulbs away from them.

If you need to store your forced bulb pots outside to keep them cool, cover them with an insulating layer such as mulch, straw or dry leaves to help protect them from a deep freeze or frost. (You may also want to place a metal barrier over them, if squirrels and other animals might be tempted to steal your bulbs.)

4. Warm the forced lamps

Once you see a little growth on the bulb, it’s time to harvest spring. Move them to a warmer, light-filled location (even if that light is artificial). You will need a place that is consistently above 50 degrees, but below 65 degrees. This could be a garage location, if the temperature is warm enough, or in your basement.

Keep your forced bulbs in this slightly warmer place for a week, then you can bring them out into the main part of your home.

How to care for forced bulbs

Forced bulbs will take a few extra weeks to reach full bloom after you bring them into your home. You’ll still want to continue giving your plant spring-like conditions, so keep your potted bulb away from extreme heat such as a radiator or thermostat, which can affect its ability to flower.

Keep the bulbs well watered, but not too wet to avoid bulb rot. You may need to pot larger blooms (especially larger bloomers like amaryllis) to keep them upright so you can enjoy full bloom.

Frequently asked questions


  • Can any bulbs be grown without soil?

    Don’t want a huge pot of soil? Some bulbs work well with just water. Amaryllis, hyacinth, and paperwhite are all good choices. The trick is to place the bulb about a half inch above the water so the roots can reach it, but the bulb is not in danger of rotting.

    You can use special vases that have a cup on top to hold the bulb, and a vase underneath for water, or place the bulbs on pebbles in a glass bowl and fill with water to about a half inch below the bulbs.


  • Can you replant bulbs in your garden?

    The short answer: yes. But don’t expect new flowers for at least a year (or usually two). If you plan to replant, keep the pot in a sunny window and water it after the blooms fade.

    Once the leaves begin to die, let the bulb go dormant by placing it back in a cool, dry place, then plant the bulb in your garden in the fall.

    Gardening experts say that bulbs grown without soil are unlikely to thrive when planted in the ground, so they should be tossed or composted.

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