Forcing flower bulbs is a method of cooling and gradually re-warming bulbs so that they will bloom indoors, outside of their normal season. In the cool days of winter, these flowers make a wonderful, low-maintenance gift for anyone, including gardeners and floral enthusiasts.
Many types of bulbs require a cooling period of 6 weeks, so plan ahead for the holidays. But don’t worry if you’re running out of time before the gift-giving season. With a quick online search, you should be able to order pre-cooled bulbs.
Many varieties of bulbs can be forced successfully, but the following options have been developed over the years to perform excptionally well under forced conditions.
One of the best-known bulbs for holiday forcing is the amaryllis. In warm shades of red, pink, and coral, the oversized flowers make a bold statement in a small space. This would be an ideal gift for someone who loves showy plants but has limited room in which to grow them. Long-lasting amaryllis blooms can thrive for several weeks in a cool room.
Star of Bethlehem bulbs make a perfect Christmas gift thanks to their festive name. A thoughtful choice for gardeners, these small white blossoms can be planted outdoors in the spring. Stars of Bethlehem will readily multiply year after year if left undisturbed in the garden.
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Paperwhite narcissus is a classic choice for indoor bulbs. The pure white blooms are reminiscent of fresh snow. These members of the daffodil family are popular all winter, as their simple form is seasonless and graceful.
The key factor in forcing bulbs is the cooling period. Depending on the type of bulb, expect to keep them chilled for six to eight weeks. The bulbs need to be stored in a cool, dry, dark place that encourages dormancy. Examples of suitable places include a refrigerator crisper, a cellar, an unheated sunroom or basement, or a protected garage.
Once the dormancy period is over, it’s time to make the bulbs think spring has arrived. Plant the bulbs in a well-drained container with nutrient-rich soil. With some types of plants, like the amaryllis, it’s ok if the bulbs stick out of the dirt a little bit. It’s also alright to crowd the container a bit. Forced bulbs don’t need to be spaced out as much as those planted in the ground.
Bring your newly-planted bulbs into a warm (not hot) room with filtered sunlight. These conditions will simulate springtime in nature, and the bulbs will begin to sprout. The amount of growing time until they bloom depends on the species of bulb, but watching the little plants grow every day is exciting too.
If you have children, forcing bulbs is a fun way to show them how plants grow. It’s also a great way to bring a pop of color into the house when the weather may be gloomy. The whole family can enjoy the process of growing flowers inside your house, and before you know it spring will be here!