Chase away the winter blues by planting spring bulbs in pots indoors. Flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, narcissus, paperwhites, lilies of the valley, and crocus can all be grown indoors. The best part is that if you plant now, you’ll be able to begin enjoying beautiful blooms by the end of the January or the first part of February.
How to Force Bulbs
If you want to force bulbs indoors, it’s important to choose the right ones. Regardless of the flowers you intend to grow, you’ll want to choose good quality bulbs that are larger in size than the ones you’d typically plant outside.
One thing you’ll want to keep in mind are the flowers' blooming times. Since each variety will bloom at a different rate, you'll want to separate them by pot so you aren’t left with any "bald spots" in your indoor garden design.
Start with a clean clay or plastic pot. Line the bottom with an unbleached coffee filter and loosely fill the pot with a mixture of three parts soil, two parts peat moss, and one part sand. Unlike the bulbs you plant in the ground, you’ll want to keep the pointy tips of these bulbs exposed above the soil. Leave about a quarter-inch of head room at the top of the pot for watering. Water after you’ve planted the bulbs and be sure to keep the soil moist so that it doesn’t become dry.
Most bulbs require exposure to cold temperatures (i.e., 35 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 12 to 13 weeks before they’ll begin to grow and bloom. If you live in an area with a cooler climate, take advantage of the falling autumn temperatures and place the pots in an unheated attic or basement, or just place them outside in a cold frame. If you live in an area where freezing temperatures arrive in November and stay consistently below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and you want to place your pots in a cold frame, be sure to insulate them with several layers of mulch. If you live in a warm or temperate area that doesn’t experience winter temperatures consistently in the mid-30s or mid-40s, place the pots in your refrigerator. Cover each one with a plastic bag and poke holes through the top to allow for air flow.
Do not expose the bulbs to freezing temperatures. It’s important to place them in an area cold enough to trick them into growing early but warm enough to eliminate the threat of freezing. Conversely, you also don’t want to expose them to temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once you’ve put your pots in cold storage, mark your calendar with the appropriate removal date. If you plant your bulbs now, pull the pots out as soon as the middle of January. Most varieties will flower about three to four weeks after you pull them from storage.
Place the pots in a sunny location that stays relatively cool — between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit — and gets indirect sunlight. Once the leaves begin to grow, move the pots to a warmer part of your home. If you want to enjoy the flowers for longer, move them to a cooler location every evening.
Things to Consider When You’re Forcing Bulbs
While the process for forcing bulbs is essentially the same regardless of what you plant, there are a few extra things to consider when planting particular flowers. For example, to draw hyacinth flowers out from the bulb, it helps to place a paper cone over the plants for a few days. This will help them grow taller and flower out. Grape hyacinths will continue to flower throughout the season, and you may even be able to plant them outside in the spring.
One of the most popular flowers to plant indoors during the winter is amaryllis. Plant theses bulbs in light, rich soil, and keep the top parts of them exposed to the air. Water them thoroughly and let the soil dry between each watering. You'll want to place the pots in a warm, sunny spot at first, but make sure to move them out of direct sunlight when they begin to flower. After they've bloomed, cut off the flowers and treat them like normal houseplants. Move them back to a sunny location for the remainder of the winter, and gradually move them outside in the spring as the temperatures heat up and they can start to enjoy at least six hours of sunshine a day. In the fall, bring them back inside before the first frost and put them in a dark location for at least eight weeks. If you repeat the planting process using fresh soil, you’ll likely be able to continue enjoying their blooms each and every year.
The paperwhite is another popular bulb when it comes to indoor planting. While you can plant these bulbs in soil, they’re commonly grown in glass or ceramic containers filled with pebbles. Using a tall glass or ceramic container, fill the bottom two inches with clean pebbles and throw in a tablespoon of rinsed aquarium charcoal. Then add another layer of pebbles. Place the bulbs root-side down on top of the pebbles and add enough room temperature water to skim their bottom parts. You’ll have to continue adding more water in as the water in the container evaporates. As the greenery and flowers start to grow, the roots of the bulbs will begin to envelop the pebbles. When the bulbs are done flowering, throw them away, as it’s unlikely that they’ll bloom again.
Forcing bulbs indoors is a beautiful way to add some color to your home during the winter. Now choose your favorite bulb varieties and get growing!