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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 bulb 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 bulb forcing, you’re probably wondering whether you can plant outdoor bulbs indoors. The answer is yes, your usual garden varieties are perfectly suitable bulbs for planting in this way.
Here are some suggestions for the easiest bulbs to force indoors.
- *Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
- *Paperwhite Narcissi
- *Iris Reticulata
- *Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
It’s worth bearing in mind the size of your pot when choosing your bulbs for forcing indoors; 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.
When should you start to force bulbs?
This isn’t an exact science, but you can make a good guess at how long your bulbs will need to spend in ‘winter’ conditions before you bring them in to bloom indoors.
Here’s a rough guide for each type of garden 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 – for example, if you’re planting bulbs for Christmas blooms – work back from this. It’s worth noting that this is still very much an estimate, and you may not get flowers exactly when you want them. This is 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.
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 (find out which to use in our guide to the best compost for pots)
- *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 gorgeous time-lapse video of hyacinths to inspire you to get planting!
Can you plant bulbs that have been forced?
If you’d like to reuse your forced bulbs after they’ve finished flowering, snip off the dead blooms, but leave the foliage. Once you’ve done this, place them in a bright, protected spot outdoors or on a sunny windowsill, and water regularly until the leaves have died off. When this has happened you have a couple of options. You can let the soil dry out completely and store the pot until next winter, or remove 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. I think they’d also look fantastic in old terracotta pots or upcycled teapots.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a great gardening activity to involve children with, and you can use it to teach them about bulb growing and the plant life cycle. How about potting up some bulbs for them to give as teacher or nursery Christmas presents? They could even get crafty decorating the pot to create a really personal gift.
More fun ideas for nature craft and play
If you’d like some more ideas for children’s gardening, take a look at my book *A Year of Nature Craft and Play (co-authored with Becky Goddard-Hill). It’s filled with fun gardening projects, crafts, games, art and science activities that inspire kids to get creative with nature and explore the amazing natural world. There are 52 budget-friendly nature play activities, one for every week of the year, all with easy-to-follow instructions and colourful photos.
My blog section on gardening with children has lots of fun ideas too 🙂
More bulb planting resources
If you’re also planting flower bulbs for spring in the garden, you might like to check out my post on planting bulbs. It has tips on when to plant bulbs, how to choose the best bulbs to plant, and simple instructions on how to plant bulbs for the best results.
Another option is to plant a bulb lasagne in an outdoor container. This is a clever way of layering bulbs in pots 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!
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