It’s a lovely practice that is known by such a harsh name: Forcing Bulbs. It’s the process of bringing bulbs into bloom indoors. You are gently forcing the bulb to flower out of season.
Though the name implies brute force, the process is more a matter of timing. All bulbs need to bloom and you are simply offering those conditions. It’s pretty simple.
The two most popular bulbs to force are amaryllis and paperwhites. Both of these varieties are often seen in homes during the holiday season but their lovely blooms can brighten your home all winter long. They actually have more impact during the doldrums of January and February when the glitz and lights of the holiday season have been packed away.
This has become such a popular choice because not only is it beautiful and showy, but it can be forced quite easily and with great success. The big, bold red flowers will complement your holiday decorations, but different cultivars of amaryllis have blooms of pink, white and even stripes – which harken to spring thoughts.
Though commonly known as amaryllis, this flower belongs to the Hippeastrum genus which is native to South America. Being a tropical flower differentiates it because it does not need to live through a cold season to produce a bloom. Its period of dormancy is managed by the moisture of the soil. Amaryllis will typically produce a flower after around 6 to 8 weeks of growth. That’s why they are usually sold as they are preparing to bloom. Amaryllis will appreciate a warm spot with lots of light until the flower begins to show color.
Most forced bulbs can only bloom once but you can count on the amaryllis to offer repeating blooms if you duplicate their natural moisture cycle. To do this, cut the spent blooms and treat it like a sun-loving house plant. When it is warm enough, plant the amaryllis outside in a sunny spot all summer. Before the first frost, you will need to bring the plant indoors storing it in a dark location.
Allow the plant to dry out completely for about two months. Then repot your bulb, start to water again, and bring it out into some sun for a new round of blossoms. The more light and warmth you give your amaryllis, the faster you will get flowers. To delay blooming until later in the winter, wait a bit longer to begin watering, and grow your amaryllis in a cooler room with fewer hours of bright light.
If your preference if for a more delicate flower or if you appreciate a bold fragrance, paperwhites can be forced as simply as the amaryllis.
Paperwhite belong to a subspecies known as Narcissus tazetta, but unlike their Narcissus cousins, they will not need a cold spell prior to their bloom period. This is a distinctive plant in that it does not even require soil. You can force them by placing the bulbs into a vase of small rocks or marbles and adding water.
Be sure to keep the water level a bit above the bottom of the bulbs and give them plenty of sun. If your room offers too much warmth, though, the plants can become tall and droopy. Paperwhites will bloom in around 3 weeks.
Like amaryllis, paperwhites can be forced to flower again, but it’s a long process that takes 2 or 3 years. Once the blooms are spent, pot the bulbs in soil and treat them like a normal house plant. As the leaves brown completely, cut them back. When all foliage is gone, end watering to begin dormancy. When fall arrives, repot and begin to water again. Eventually you will get blooms again. If you don’t want to go through this effort, just plant the bulbs outside. Maybe someday they will surprise you.
Other Spring Bulbs
There are many others bulbs than can provide winter blooms by forcing. Tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth are popular choices. The forcing process for these varieties is pretty much the same procedure. Each plant will have its own temperature requirements and various durations.
Chilling can easily be achieved by placing bulbs in a paper bag and storing in an unheated garage in colder climates, but for North Texas a refrigerator may be necessary. When shoots first appear after the dark, cold storing period, bulbs will benefits from 1 or 2 weeks in only low light and cooler temperatures before you put them out for display.
Chilling Specific Bulbs
Grape Hyacinth will require at least 10 weeks of cold storage. Once sprouted they will grow fast and their long-lasting blooms often appear in less than three weeks. Once spent, bulbs can be planted outside, where they will naturalize and continue to bloom each spring.
Daffodils typically require thirteen weeks of chilling. If you store them longer it will result in taller flowers. After you bring them into the house, warmer temperatures and bright sun will produce good results. Daffodils will flower in 3 to 4 weeks.
Tulips will need to have a chill time based on their size. Larger bulbs that are started in early fall can take as long as sixteen weeks of cold dormancy while smaller bulbs started in early winter might need only 8 weeks. After they develop sprouts, warms days will speed growth and cooler nights can help blooms last longer. It will take around 3 weeks for the blooming period to arrive once the plant breaks out of dormancy.
Whichever bulbs you choose to force, the beautiful blooms will be a welcomed spot of spring throughout the winter season. It may seem like an unusual process but give it a chance and you will find out how easy it can be to bring beautiful flowers into your home.