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Autumn is traditionally the time to plant spring bulbs in the garden, with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, iris and crocus all popular choices. But while you’re planting bulbs in the garden, it’s a great idea to pot up some of those bulbs and ‘force’ them to flower early, so you can enjoy the blooms indoors before spring arrives.
What does forcing bulbs mean?
Forcing bulbs is basically speeding up the natural process of growth and flowering. You need to trick your bulbs into thinking that it’s already winter by creating winter conditions – so essentially, cold and dark. This makes them start to grow earlier than they would do naturally, which results in early blooms.
What bulbs can be forced?
If you’re new to forcing bulbs, you’re probably wondering whether you can plant outdoor bulbs indoors. The answer is yes, your usual garden varieties are perfectly suitable.
Here are some suggestions for the easiest bulbs you can force:
- *Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
- *Paperwhite Narcissi
- *Iris Reticulata
- *Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
It’s worth bearing in mind the size of your pot when choosing your bulbs; don’t plant big tulips in a tiny pot, for example. I find miniature iris, crocus, hyacinths, muscari and miniature daffodils all work well if you’re tight on space.
How to force bulbs indoors
Forcing bulbs indoors isn’t tricky, and in my experience it’s a great little gardening project to get the kids involved with. Here’s how to do it.
You will need
- *Spring flowering bulbs
- *Plant pots – ideally twice as deep as your bulbs, and please try to avoid plastic if you’re buying new ones
- *Potting compost
- *Gardening gloves
- *Garden trowel
- *Plant labels
Put some compost in the bottom of your pot – how much you need will depend upon how deep you are supposed to plant your choice of bulbs. Check the bulb packet to see how deep they need to be, it’s important to get this right.
Pop the bulbs into the compost, pointy end up. Pack them in, but try not to let them touch each other. The more you put in, the bigger the show when they flower.
Cover the bulbs with more compost, filling to just below the top of the pot. Once that’s done, water the pot thoroughly. Remember to label each pot!
Place the pots in a cool, dark place – an unheated cellar, shed or garage are good options. Make sure the top of the soil is not exposed to light; covering the pots with a paper bag avoids this.
Check your pots every now and then; keep them damp, but not wet.
When you see green tips poking through the soil, move the pots into a warm room indoors and they will flower in 2-3 weeks. Here’s a rough guide for each type of bulb on how long before you need to bring them indoors:-
- Hyacinths & crocus: 8-10 weeks
- Muscari, miniature iris & daffodils: 10 weeks
- Tulips: 14-20 weeks
If you have a specific date in mind when you want your bulbs to flower, work back from this. It’s worth noting that forcing bulbs isn’t an exact science, so you may not get flowers exactly when you want them – all part of the fun though!
You can also stagger the display from your bulbs by planting a range of varieties that take different amounts of time to flower.
Can you plant bulbs after forcing?
If you’d like to reuse your forced bulbs after they’ve finished flowering, snip off the dead blooms but leave the foliage. Then place them in a bright, protected spot outdoors or on a sunny windowsill, watering regularly until the leaves have died off. Once this has happened, you can either let the soil dry out completely and store the pot until next winter, or lift the bulbs and dry them out separately, then replant them next autumn.
Forcing bulbs to create a homemade gift
Forcing bulbs indoors in pots is a lovely way to bring flowers and fragrance into your home in the depths of winter, but a pretty pot of bulbs that are about to flower also makes a lovely gift. This is how we’ve done ours for Christmas gifts in the past:
The metal pots are from IKEA; we simply jazzed them up with some festive ribbon and a candy cane. They would also look fantastic in old terracotta pots, wouldn’t they?
As I mentioned earlier, this is a great gardening activity to involve children with, how about potting up some bulbs for them to give as teacher or nursery Christmas presents? They could even get crafty decorating the pot and make a really personal gift.
More bulb planting resources
If you’re also planting bulbs in the garden, you might like to check out my post on how to plant bulbs, which has a step-by-step guide to help you get it right.
Another option is to plant a bulb lasagne in an outdoor container. This is a clever way of layering up spring-flowering bulbs to create a display of flowers that lasts for months. It’s a quick and easy project – my bulb lasagne post shows you how to do it.
Do you think you’ll have a go at forcing bulbs indoors this autumn? I’ve just planted some miniature iris with the aim of having them in bloom for Christmas – fingers crossed!