Forcing bulbs to bloom inside the house is a wonderful, easy way to get through the cold gray days of winter while adding fragrance and color to your life indoors. If you plan ahead, you can have red tulips for Christmas Day, pink and white hyacinths on Valentine's Day, and the fragrance of springtime in your home all winter long.
The term forcing refers to inducing a plant to produce its shoots, leaves or flowers ahead of its natural schedule and out of its natural environment. To force bulbs, you need to mimic and compress the process the plant would undergo outdoors naturally in the garden.
Small-sized bulbs, such as snowdrops, scilla, muscari, chionodoxa, and crocus can be forced just as easily as larger bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth. Early blooming varieties are better suited for forcing than others. It's also important to select varieties that don't grow too tall.
Narcissus (paper whites) hyacinths, amaryllis, and lily of the valley will grow indoors in water. You can use a bulb vase or a shallow dish filled with clean pebbles or marbles to stabilize the roots and to support the bulbs above the water. Just wedge the bulbs among the pebbles, close to each other but not touching, and cover the pebbles with water. Allow air space between the top of the water and the bottom of the bulb to prevent rot.
For other bulbs, half fill a shallow container with . Fill this layer, small end up, with as many bulbs as will fit in your pot without touching each other. Then add more soil between until they are completely covered. With hyacinths, amaryllis, and narcissus, allow the necks to protrude slightly.
After planting, place the pots in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar, garage or refrigerator to initiate root and shoot growth. If necessary, set boxes, pots or black garbage bags over your potted bulbs to keep them dark during the cooling period. Keep the soil moist through the rooting and cooling period. After five or six weeks, the roots and growth should emerge.
Then move the bulbs to a cool location indoors. The bulbs should be placed in indirect lighting and should not be allowed to dry out. Forcing will take about 12 weeks for the early blooming bulbs (snowdrop, crocus, and daffodil) and about 16 weeks for tulips.
Feed weekly with a half-strength solution of a good houseplant fertilizer. Turn the pots every couple of days to help the flower stems grow straight and strong. When the foliage and buds are well developed, move the pots to a bright, sunny window in the house. Once the flowers begin to open, take the plants out of direct sunlight to prolong the bloom. Then sit back and enjoy the early breath of spring indoors!