How-To: Forcing Bulbs Indoors

Over the years, a question I often get is “can I make these bulbs bloom indoors?” In the past, I’ve given an answer along the lines of, “Yeah, I think you should be able to. I mean, I know it can be done.” But because I had never done it myself, and didn’t really know the specifics, that was about as helpful as I could be. Sure, I had read that it could be done…but reading and doing are two quite different things. Especially when it comes to gardening.

My first attempt at forcing bulbs was doomed from the beginning I think. A long time ago – so long ago the details are fuzzy – I bought (I think I bought it? Maybe I was gifted it? I really don’t remember) a little crocus set. It came with three little vases and three little bulbs. You were supposed to fill the vases enough so that just the bottom of the bulb was making contact with the water. And you were supposed to put them in a dark, cold place for some amount of time. The dark, cold place I chose was the basement of our house. And I think I forgot about them for some time. Whether the basement wasn’t quite cold enough (even though to me it felt like it was freezing), whether the bulbs were too wet or too dry or maybe just duds to begin with, I’ll never know. All I know is that I ended up with what I started out with: three little vases and three little bulbs.

daffodil bloom, yellow daffodil, mini daffodil

My first successful attempt at forcing bulbs indoors were these delightful mini daffodils.

My next attempt at forcing bulbs was also doomed from the beginning I think. I got some daffodil bulbs from a university event, and since I didn’t have an actual piece of ground to plant them in I thought I’d just plant them up in a pot and leave it outside to overwinter. Last winter wasn’t terribly cold, but I think it was cold enough (and definitely dry enough) that my little bulbs froze.

That brings us to this past fall. I opened an email from a local garden center one day to find an announcement about a bulb forcing class! And you could take home bulbs of your very own! I signed up right away. The day of the class arrived and I showed up at the workshop. With nothing. Not even a scrap of paper to jot down notes – and this is coming from someone who just barely got rid of high-school class notes. High school. Who saves high school class notes? Luckily, I did have my phone so I did manage to type out some notes (three cheers for technology!) so that when I left the workshop I left not only with my safely potted-up daffodil bulbs, but also the instructions on how to actually get them to bloom. Which means, lucky you, that now you can learn how to force bulbs indoors too!

indoor bulbs, indoor daffodils, daffodils, forcing bulbs indoors

Five bulbs, all of which sprouted, each had about 3 blooms per stem. So when it was in full bloom, there were numerous little, happy, yellow flowers in my kitchen.

Basically it comes down to these main points:

  • Your bulbs will need 12-14 weeks of a cold period. The ideal temperature is between 40-45 F. They can handle colder, but don’t let them freeze (so nothing below 32 F), and they can handle a bit warmer (up to 50 F) but will take longer to reach the chilling hours necessary.
  • The best places to get these temperatures: crawl spaces, unfinished basements, unheated (but insulated) garages, or a fridge (which is where mine lived).

    forcing bulbs, indoor bulbs, chilling bulbs

    My husband was very patient with my taking over the fridge with bulbs from October ’til January.

  • Check the pot periodically to make sure the soil is slightly damp, but not soggy. If the fridge, you might not ever have to water them (I think I watered mine once), but in the other locations you’ll want to check every week to 10 days.
  • Place your bulbs in a pot filled 3/4 – 4/5 full with the best potting soil you can get. Sprinkle a bit more potting mix over top – they should be just under the surface.

    forcing bulbs, indoor bulbs, bulbs in pots

    You want to fill a pot 1/2-3/4 full of potting media and then place your bulbs on top. Over top of the bulbs sprinkle over more soil until they are just covered.

  • After your cold period, you can bring them out of the refrigerator into a bright but cool area of your house (60-65 F would be ideal) and leave them there for about 10 days. Then, bring them into a warmer place (still with plenty of light) for them to bloom.

It turns out that what I once thought was impossible (based on previous personal experience) is actually quite simple! Perhaps the hardest part is deciding what kind of bulbs to plant. Miniature daffodils all do well (the full-sized ones won’t force), hyacinths and crocus are also both good bulbs to force indoors. Tulips tend to be more complicated, but the best results come from the single early types; the doubles, late-bloomers, and Darwin hybrids don’t do well under forcing conditions.

Having a bit of springtime on my kitchen counter in February has been really nice. One unexpected perk was the scent - in the great out-of-doors I had never realized how fragrant daffodils are.

Having a bit of springtime on my kitchen counter in February has been really nice. One unexpected perk was the scent – in the great out-of-doors I had never realized how fragrant daffodils are.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while you can get multiple years of blooms from your bulbs you plant outside, that’s not likely to happen when forcing bulbs. I knew this from the workshop I attended, but being me, I wanted to try anyway. I acquired some tulip bulbs that I think had been forced the year before but I potted them up and put them inside the fridge alongside my daffodil bulbs. They sprouted and I got some nice leaves, but no buds and no flowers. So, no tulips this year, but I have definitely enjoyed the daffodils.

About a month ago, when I first pulled my bulbs out of the fridge we tried making a time-lapse video to show their growth. I also promised I’d have one of them blooming, so to keep good on my promise, here it is:

2 Comments

  1. Great post! The daffodils look awesome! And ever the scientist I like how you tried something new and added the variable of testing for yourself if previously forced bulbs would grow instead of taking someone else’s word. The time lapse was fun. Thanks for sharing!

    • Heather

      February 20, 2016 at 10:17 am

      I’m glad you liked it! I think I may make a habit of forcing bulbs now. Next year I think I’ll try hyacinth too. 🙂

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