Forcing Bulbs For Winter Enjoyment

Midwestern residents in search of flowers in the bleak days of winter should starting chilling the bulbs they would like to force now.DSC02417

Most spring-blooming bulbs can be forced into bloom. The most common choices are hyacinths, crocus, narcissus, and grape hyacinths. Catalogs often indicate the variety’s ability to be forced. Choose higher-quality bulbs for best blooms.

Depending on what type of bulb is being forced, there are many choices of containers. Specially designed, glass vases are available for hyacinths, while paperwhite narcissus can be placed in a wide, shallow bowl using pebbles for support. Other bulbs can use a pot and a soil-less, well-drained mixture containing a mix of sphagnum moss, and perlite or vermiculite.SAMSUNG

When preparing a bulb within a pot, place bulbs close together, touching even. This will produce a larger display and help with the blooms staying upright, as they will have the support of the others. All types of bulbs should have their tops showing just above the surface of the soil mixture. Water in the bulbs well, and be sure they maintain some moisture during the chilling period. Bulbs placed in the refrigerator will need to be checked more often as they tend to dry out faster.

All bulbs need a cold period (except paperwhites) and there are a few ways to achieve this:

  • The refrigerator, but be sure to cover them with something opaque (paper bag) as light will affect them.
  • An unheated garage or cellar
  • A cold frame, but be aware of random warm days as if the temperature fluctuates, flowering could be initiated.
  • Dig a trench outside, place pots inside and cover with hay, dried leaves, evergreen branches, or any other type of natural mulch. This will act as a buffer to the fluctuating temperatures. Then cover with plastic and anchor it with rocks or bricks.

The cold period of bulbs differs with its variety. Below is a handy chart.

Common Name

Weeks of Cold





Glory of the snow


Grape Hyacinth




Iris reticulata


Iris danfordiae


Paperwhite narcissus




After the chill period is over, bring the bulbs in for blooming. If the bulb was potted, check for roots, as if it did not produce adequate roots by now, it will not bloom. Water the pots adequately and bring them inside, but choose a cooler location until growth has begun. After they begin to grow, move containers to a high light, warmer location. Blooms should develop within three weeks.

Unfortunately, because of the stress the bulb is under, forced blooms do not last as long as outdoor blooms. It is best to stagger the chill periods by a week so there are rotating bloom times. The stress of forcing a bulb allows it to only bloom once and is compost after that.

© Ilex Farrell ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

4 thoughts on “Forcing Bulbs For Winter Enjoyment

    • Kewl! Let’s post our bloom photos when they do! I only did paper whites this year. But bought good stock bulbs from our wholesaler in Netherlands this year. Bulbs are so much bigger than what I’ve found in stores. Should be a good show!


  1. Pingback: Narcissistic Narcissus Bulbs | Midwestern Plants

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