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Bring on Spring! How to Force Spring Bulbs Indoors

Gardeners, rejoice! If you are ready for spring, start the season early by forcing bulbs to grow indoors. Not only will you get to bring some beauty into your home, but you’ll be a step ahead when it comes to your spring garden too. Here’s everything you need to know about growing bulbs indoors. 

How to force Flower Bulbs to Bloom Indoors

Do you ever find yourself wishing that spring could come earlier? Well, my friend, you can bring a bit of spring indoors this fall and winter with blooming spring bulbs! With a few simple techniques, you can force bulbs to grow early and create a spring garden right in your own home well before they are ready to flower outdoors.

You can make gorgeous varied arrangements to display on your dining table or other surfaces and you’ll be feeling sunnier in no time. Grab some bulbs and get ready to welcome spring!

Forcing Bulbs for Spring

I’m rather lucky living in the Pacific Northwest, where spring arrives earlier for me compared to other northern counterparts. Oftentimes I am posting my spring bulbs on social media and my friends are commenting that they are still deep in snow!

Snow in May and June is a reality for some, making the true gardening season a few short months. However, you can still enjoy the wonders of spring even if it doesn’t feel like the season outdoors. Forcing spring bulbs is my favourite way to add some much needed colour inside while you sit and wait to garden outside.

Tulips in colourful pots
Photo of Tulipa Bright Sight, Orange Princess, Queensland, Varinas courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

Sponsored Content: This article on forcing spring bulbs is proudly sponsored by Flowerbulbs.com (who also provided some of the gorgeous photos in this post). We partnered on this article to help remind you that fall is the best time of year to buy spring bulbs. There are a ton of great bulbs available at online retailers and in garden centers, so you certainly will have plenty of options in your area. Get your bulbs now so you can chill them in time for an early spring indoors when you need the cheery blooms the most!

Mini-Narcissus-Daffodils-in-Bags
Photo courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

The Best Bulbs to Grow Indoors

While you could theoretically use most bulbs indoors, some will be more challenging than others. For successful and easy flowers, it’s important to pick bulbs that take well to forcing. These ones are easy to force indoors and produce gorgeous spring flowers that will brighten up your home.

I also like to grow bulbs indoors that aren’t hardy in my area. Some bulbs will only be hardy in warmer zones and won’t naturalize for the following year. Growing bulbs indoors allows you to still experience these more tender bulbs, even if you live in a colder area.

Choose Your Container

Deep Purple forced Hyacinth bulbs in pots
Photo courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

Bulbs can be forced in a wide variety of containers, so pick something decorative that will complement the flowers that you’ve chosen. Shallow dishes and pots make good containers for many bulbs, as do simple Mason jars. You can find containers specifically made for bulb forcing, too—they have a wide dish at the top that narrows before widening out below again into a vase shape, so that the bulb will sit in the top above the water in the vase part.

Prepare Your Bulbs

Forcing bulbs and other plants is a way of tricking them into thinking it’s time to flower earlier than they naturally would. In order to do this, you have to put the bulbs through a false “winter.”

Spring bulbs naturally go through a period of dormancy over winter, and in the spring when the soil is warmed enough by the sun, the bulb knows that it is time to come up and bloom. What we’re doing is recreating this effect indoors and on our own time, so that we can have beautiful spring flowers blooming early.

Muscari are one of several spring bulbs that can be forced to bloom indoors

To do this, you need to mimic the bulb’s natural life cycle by chilling it at 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2-7 degrees Celsius) for about 8-15 weeks. This creates an artificial winter.

You can chill bulbs in a cool, dark spot like a root cellar or unheated garage.

You can also put the bulbs in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator as long as you give them their own drawer away from fruits and vegetables that release ethylene gas.

If you don’t have the time to do this, you can buy bulbs that have already been chilled for you.

Planting Bulbs Indoors

Once the bulbs have gone through their cold period, you can plant them indoors and the transition from cold to warm will signal to them that it is time to grow and bloom.

If you are using a Mason jar or other deep vessel, fill the container up with small pebbles or marbles. Nestle the bulb into the pebbles or marbles with the pointy end facing up. About half of the bulb should be buried while the top half remains exposed. Add enough water to the container so that the bottom quarter of the bulb is submerged, but the rest of the bulb is above the water.

Tulips growing in a deep vase look beautiful with some delicate branches added to the arrangement

If you are using a shallow dish or pot, add a few pebbles to the bottom for drainage and add potting soil to the container. Plant the bulbs in the soil (again, pointy sides up) and add a little more soil on top so that they are just covered. Water thoroughly. Check the soil often and keep it moist with frequent watering.

Dutch irises bloom well indoors in a shallow dish and look lovely with pebbles around the base

Sometimes you don’t even need soil to grow your bulbs. All you need is a bulb, water, and the right vase. A forcing vase is one that has a narrow top and wide bottom. This allows the bulb to be only partly submerged in water.

If you have a forcing vase, simply fill the bottom part with water and rest the bulb inside the wide dish at the top. If you haven’t chilled your bulbs yet, place your vase in a dark, cool place and wait. After a few weeks, the roots will grow down into the water. When the flower begins to appear, bring it out for display. If your vase is clear, you even get to watch the roots grow in addition to seeing the beautiful flower bloom.

Forced hyacinths for Christmas
Photo courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

Decorate!

Growing bulbs indoors is all about bringing some colour and beauty to your home. Beyond the flower variety and colour, you can add a lot of elements to stylize your indoor bulb.

Give your arrangements a little something extra by adding reindeer moss, polished pebbles, or flat glass marbles around the base of the plants, and consider including some delicate deciduous branches for added structure. If you are forcing your bulbs in soil and not just water, you can plant a few pretty annuals such as violas or primulas in the same container for some variety.

You can also play around to make your bulbs and container match the season. Opt for pastel hues and cheery containers to create an Easter themed piece. As long as you time it right, you can have bulbs indoors year-round.

Forced-Hyacinth-bulbs-in-an-Edwardian-case
Photo courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

Plant Again

After the bulbs have finished flowering and you have enjoyed your indoor display to the fullest, you can plant the bulbs out in the garden and watch them flower again for years to come.  If they are hardy in your zone, you can plant them in the ground and wait for them to spring up next winter. Alternatively, you can also store them to grow them indoors again.

To do this, remove old flowers and leaves as they slowly fade away. Once the plant is finished flowering, cut the stems to two inches above the bulb. Remove the bulb from the soil and gently clean off any dirt. Store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use it again next winter.

Photo of Tulipa Dynasty and Hyacinthus China Pink courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com.

Giveaway Time!

Crocus Flower Record 2
Photo of Crocus Flower Record courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com

Flowerbulbs.com is giving away 30 Crocus ‘Flower Record’ to one lucky Garden Therapy reader. This contest is now closed. Congratulations to the winner: Tracy! Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get updates.

Crocus ‘Flower Record’ has deep violet flowers with showy orange anthers and grass-like foliage with narrow, median silver-white stripes. Belongs to the Crocus vernus group, known for exceptionally large flowers. Tolerant of deer, clay soil, and black walnut. Long-lived, great for naturalizing. Zone 4-8, height 3” to 6”, early blooming, full to partial sun. Plant three times as deep as the bulb is tall.

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Comments

  1. Forcing bulbs in winter is a wonderful way to have a bit of spring early. Apple blossoms and pussy willows are also great to try. Actually it is fun to try different types of plant material. A fun way to learn and a nice challenge.

    Reply
  2. BULBS BULBS BULBS! I want them all! I am going to plant some this weekend. Last Christmas, I planted my Amaryllis in the ground. Hope it comes up this winter.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this post Stephanie! I didn’t realize how easy this actually was to do & now I’m going to try having my own indoor Spring this February when it’s so terribly gloomy in Ohio. I hope I win the crocus bulbs, too. I have tulips and daffodils but do not have crocus. Thanks again for always sharing things in a way that allows us to really be able to DIY!!

    Reply

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