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How to: The Early Forcing of Spring Bulbs

 I know the holidays aren’t quite over yet, but sometime around the  end of January and the beginning of February, I start to feel a deep desire for fresh, blooming flowers. It’s almost like the yearning  you feel for for healthy foods after eating all of the treats and rich foods during the holidays. I am pretty sure I have a little seasonal depression, so any blooming flowers always make me happy. There are so many flowering spring bulbs that can be forced into early blooming, and there are so few supplies needed, that  forcing bulbs is a great way to bring in some beautiful spring flowers. And once they go through their chilling period, you can actually force them to bloom anytime of the year!
Fresh hyacynths in a basket

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There are different types of bulbs that can be forced: Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis, grape hyacinth (muscari), iris, snowdrops, crocus. You can force them in either pots or in water. If you think far enough ahead, these make great holiday gifts!

Forced pink hyacinth bulbs in a  basket for spring
I had a few bags of tulip bulbs left over last fall that I was just too lazy to plant. I was afraid they would rot if I just left them out in the open or they would attract critters; so I put them in the garage refrigerator in a paper bag starting in September in a crisper drawer and left them alone all winter. Most bulbs need a “cold” period, almost like a fake winter before they can be forced. So I did a little research on forcing bulbs and gave it a try. Even tough I live in a very cold place, if I left them outside they would freeze and then rot, so a fridge is the best chance at an evenly cool environment. You can also leave them in an unheated garage as long as the bulbs don’t freeze. They need a few months of cold temperatures to bloom, so October or November would be the latest to put them into cold storage for spring blooming. If you put them in as late as December, you won’t be able to force bloom your bulbs until almost April.


How to force bulbs
In Mid- January of last year,I pulled my chilled bulbs out to force bloom.   some went in an old mug with some gravel on the bottom and pebbles on top put in  a little water every day just till it barely touched the bottom of the bulbs. It’s necessary to keep the water level constant when forcing bulbs in water.
How you can force bulbs for early blooms

I used Tulip bulbs mixed with grape hyacinth blubs. It’s fun to change them up for a mixed bouquet. In the past I’ve mixed/forced hyacinths, daffodils, amaryllis and paperwhites (I don’t love paperwhites because even though they are so pretty, I find them slightly stinky, but that’s a personal preference.).

Table vignette for decor in a cozy winter living room

Forcing bulbs in a vase or forcing jar is an easy way to do single spring bulbs! After they have enough chill time, such as in an old refrigerator or unheated basement, just place the flat side of the bulb with the roots facing down, and make sure the water jut touches the base of the roots. Any higher and it will cause the bulb to rot. Place the vase in direct sunlight for strong stem. If it doesn’t have enough light, the plant will be a light green color with a floppy stem and leaves. You should see a small bud pop out of the top of the bulb in a few weeks.

Find a jar to force hyacinths here on Amazon

Amaryllis bulb

Make it: An upcycled gold paint stripe vase

I am always shocked and elated when they actually start to grow roots. I prefer to force mine in potting medium because not only do the stems seem to grow stronger and more uniform, but when they are done blooming, I can take the entire bit, dirt and all outside of the pot and plant the spent bulbs to bloom he following year. I love when those flower buds start popping out and it’s even more exciting to see something growing in February!

Hyacinth in a galvanized pot

The most important thing when forcing your bulbs in dirt or potting soil is to keep the moisture even. If they dry out, the flowers won’t bloom and all you’ll end up with is stems. If you stems seem like they are too light of a pale green color, they may need more direct sunlight.

Forcing bulbs for early spring blooms
 One year,I decided to try forcing and entire bag of tulip bulbs in potting soil and moss in a vintage birdbath. I envisioned an entire swath of glorious tulips, and so Martha Stewart-like in the concrete birdbath. I was so excited when I started to see little stems poke their way out of the bulbs!
Little green shots on forced blubs

If you don’t want real forced bulbs, and prefer ones you can use year after year, check out this post on how to make faux forced bulbs out of brown grocery bags.

Forced bulbs
 I could see the roots working their way down and little green shoots reach towards the sunlight. I was so expectant of the tulips really thriving.
 In the end, I never got a picture. I had about three that actually bloomed, two that rotted, and a few others that didn’t do anything. I think the soil under the moss wasn’t deep enough and the concrete of the bird bath kept soaking up all of the water. I just couldn’t keep it watered enough. After a few weeks of watering, the moss also started to get a really strong “earthy”smell that was almost off-putting… It was fun to try it though!
Forced bulbs in a pretty cement bird bath
 Forcing spring bulbs is easy to do, but I will admit, I still don’t mind picking up those pre-planted pots of hyacinths from the grocery store. It’s very much an instant gratification thing, especially when there are years I don’t remember to chill my bulbs in enough time. Life gets busy sometimes.

Once those grocery store bulbs (or your own forced bulbs) are done blooming in their pots, cut all of the foliage off down to the base, and remove everything from the pot and plant them in your yard. While the bulbs you forced won’t bloom anymore this year, next year after a full winter, you get rewarded with flowers in the yard!

Here is some more information on forcing bulbs if you too are feeling that spring time itch. πŸ™‚

Bring even more flowers into your home in late winter/ very early spring by force blooming branches such as forsythia, lilac and crabapple branches, you can see that post here.

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  1. I forced bulbs throughout the holidays and New Year and loved how long the blooms lasted. You certainly get a lot of bloom for your buck.

  2. I was afraid to say that I thought paperwhites smelled stinky…I thought I would offend someone or that it was just me!! I’m glad you are in agreement. Plus, they grow really tall and then keel over.

    I can’t wait to see how your tulips look. I love how you planted the bulbs in the moss…so pretty! πŸ™‚


  3. Thanks Jen for such a wonderful taste of spring! It’s so true about the paper whites. When I had some blooming a couple of years ago my daughters kept complaining of a strong odour in the house…we later realized it was the paper whites! So lovely but oh so stinky. Lol!
    Looking forward to seeing the blooms.

  4. I love forcing bulbs, but my husband also hates the smell of paperwhites. Having a very lousy sense of smell, they don’t bother me. I am trying tulips right now in my booth at the antique mall.

  5. I love what you said about having enough of that stink in your house already! I hate that smell, too. I did the paperwhites for the first time this year and that is exactly how I described them, sickly sweet. Don’t think I’ll do them again. On the other hand, my amaryllis bulbs that took 3 months to bloom are beautiful. I love how there is a flower coming out in all directions. So pretty!

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