Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forcing Bulbs Indoors for the Winter Holidays: 2 Key Rules

One of the easiest and most successful forms of winter gardening is forcing tender bulbs into flower. Bulbs are packages of energy surrounding a flower bud, all ready to go, and all they need is some moist potting soil or water-and-pebbles to start the process. Now is the ideal time to start them for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Years decorating, for home or office.

Those in the know follow 2 Key Rules for Forcing:
  1. Buy the largest bulbs you can find/ afford because they yield the most and largest flowers
  2. Grow bulbs in a bright, sunny window with direct sunlight so they do not stretch too tall    

The two best known types of tender bulbs are Amaryllis (6 to 8 weeks to force flowers) and paperwhites (3 to 5 weeks for blossoms). These evolved in warm climates and do not need chilling like some of the hardy landscape bulbs do.

Amaryllis are huge bulbs with large showy red, pink, white, orange or bicolored  trumpet flowers, best planted in rich potting soil. Each bulb will throw two flower scapes with 4-8 flowers, and sometimes a lucky third. They are not inexpensive but can be treated like a houseplant, spending summers outdoors, and will usually bloom again each following winter.

Paperwhites are small-cupped white daffodils that have a delicate beauty and an intense fragrance.  If you buy a couple of dozen bulbs, you can start sequential batches every couple of weeks for blooms through February or March. Put at least 7 in each pot or bowl. These can be forced in pots of potting soil or in decorative bowls filled with water and 2-3 inches of pebbles for ballast. After bloom, plant them outdoors and in the metro-Atlanta they typically bloom in December in following years.  

If success with forcing tender bulbs has whetted your appetite for more, check The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center for lots of information on bulbs and how to chill outdoor bulbs like hyacinths, crocus , grape hyacinths or mini-daffodils indoor blooms. 

Photo Credits, Geri Laufer, White Flower Farm and

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