A Touch of the Green Indoors with Forced Bulbs

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


A touch of the green indoors with forced bulbs

Are you a wee bit tired of winter? Are your spirits lagging after the holidays? If so, run to your local nursery and buy a container of forced bulbs.

Last year, I found Iris reticulata, above, at my grocery store. Recognizing the slim, needle-like foliage, I placed these tiny flowers near my desk where I could enjoy them as I worked.

Iris reticulata

Once they went dormant, I planted the bulbs outside where I hope, after a season of regrouping, they’ll bloom like the I. reticulata ‘Purple Gem’ below.

Iris reticulata in ground

Forced bulbs remind us of the good things that come with spring’s warm embrace. If you enjoy a miniature garden from the store, imagine what you can create with your own forced bulbs next fall.

The most common bulbs for forcing are hyacinths, paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying crocus and small tulips like these displayed under a glass cloche.

Tulips in container

Tazetta-type narcissus like ‘Erlicheer’ and ‘Avalanche’ are easy because they need no chilling. Try ‘Geranium’ and ‘Inbal’ too, but look out for strong-scented ‘Ziva’ unless you want your entire house uninhabitable.  

Amaryllis (1)

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are also great for growing indoors. Prune wayward shrubs like nandinas with SoftGrip® Floral Bypass Pruners and make a stem teepee support for amaryllis blooms. Choose unusual flowers instead of the standard ‘Red Lion’ and ‘Apple Blossom.’ Exciting cultivars like ‘Chico,’ ‘Emerald’ or even ‘Lemon Lime’ are easy to find online.  
You can grow most bulbs in soil or pebbles, or employ forcing vases that use simple water. Bulbs don’t need feeding because they’re already stored most of their energy within. However, I’ve noticed where I live in the South, fruit gnats are attracted to the water when I use small stones. If I force in vases, or on top of another medium like pebbles, I place the containers in my garage or refrigerator. Northerners don’t seem to combat this gnat problem. If you do use water, change it regularly too.

My favorite way to force indoor flowers is to use containers of soil with shallowly-planted bulbs. I then top the bulbs with either moss or stones to achieve a finished look.
Plant bulbs when you receive them, or store in mesh bags in your refrigerator away from ripening fruit and vegetables that give off ethylene gas.  Paperwhites and amaryllis don’t need a chilling period so you can grow them immediately. Place planted bulbs in a darkened and unheated room like your basement, garage or refrigerator—again, away from fruit and vegetables—and  bring inside once they start growing. I watch for green tips about a half-inch high before bringing them indoors. To have blooms in January, plant bulbs in September.

Only the beginning

For more great forcing tips, check out Old House Gardens webpage on forcing.

Enjoy your potted bulbs now, and you’ll soon be hooked. There’s nothing like a bit of spring in the house to put the bounce right back into your step.