In the darkest days of winter there is nothing more wonderful than having something fresh and floral to make your cozy indoor space a bit brighter. What could be better than the promise of spring without having to wait for well… spring. I am of course talking about growing bulbs indoors, also called forcing bulbs. But I have to be honest, I don’t love that term… it sounds a little on the violent side, like I’m forcing them to do something they don’t want. I prefer to think of it as “tricking bulbs” because really that is what we are doing, tricking them into blooming by making them think spring has arrived. Considering we might be spending more time than usual inside this winter, let’s try to bring a bit of “winter-spring” into our spaces. It’s time to grow some indoor bulbs.
Before we get into the details you need to know that indoor bulbs fall into two groups, bulbs that need a chilling period to flower and those that don’t and it’s very important that you know which is which if you want to be successful.
Chilled (Forced) Bulbs
First the ones that need to chill… literally. I’m going to level with you, it takes a bit of effort to force these bulbs. But the bonus is that the sky is the limit on selection since most bulbs that bloom in the spring can be forced. This includes tulips, daffodils, grape Hyacinths, Crocus, and Anemones, just to name a few. The procedure to trick the bulbs is to attempt to mimic the natural process that a bulb would experience. This involves a dropping of temperature, with a minimum period of cold, and then followed by a period of warming back up again. Just like the natural seasonal cycle the bulb would experience, just sped up a little. And all this has to be done in a moist environment since that is also a mimic of nature. To do it properly you need to first do a bit a research as different bulbs have different minimum chilling time requirements (and I’m not going to get into all that kind of detail here). Here is a generalized breakdown of the process:
- Bulbs can either be potted up into a container or placed in a plastic bag. If using a container make sure it is heavy enough so that it won’t topple when the flowers grow (some can get tall and top-heavy), and drainage holes as bulbs will easily rot in soggy soil.
- Then add some potting mix that you have moistened but is not waterlogged (soggy soil equals rotten bulbs). The mix should feel wet but when you squeeze it in your hand no water will come out.
- Store the bulbs in a cold but not freezing spot (anywhere from a minimum 8-18 weeks depending on the bulb in question is specific to the bulb in questing). The best situation is to have them at between 15 and 4.5°C for 3-4 weeks and then drop the temperature down to between 5 and 0°C (but not freezing) for the remainder of the minimum chilling period. However, the perfect conditions are not always possible so do what you can.
- You can put them into the fridge but only if you are not also storing any fruit because ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which interferes with flower development.
- Once you have chilled them for the specific minimum time bring them inside to the warmth of the house, making sure to put them in a spot with bright filtered light so they will remain compact.
- Your bulbs should now think that winter has passed and it’s time to start the spring show.
It can seem like a daunting process but it’s very rewarding and a great project to do with the kids. Just do a little bit of research (check out our tip sheets on forcing bulbs for more info) and consider trying something new.
No Chilling Required
If I’m being honest, I have done my fair share of bulb forcing experimentation over the years and while it’s a fun process, sometimes it’s just feels like too much work. I don’t want to say I’m lazy but, if there is an easy way to get results then count me in! So on to my favorite bulbs to grow indoors, the kind that don’t need any tricking, they will do it all one their own. My three favorites are Amaryllis (Hippeastrum), Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus), and prepared Hyacinths. Amaryllis and Paperwhites are native to tropical areas so they don’t naturally experience a winter chill and prepared Hyacinths have had the work of chilling already done for you. They are just ready to plant and enjoy.
Talk about a statement, anyone that has seen this flower won’t soon forget it. Spectacular, giant and stop-you-in-your-tracks is how I would describe it. They come in colours that range from velvety red, to peachy pinks, whites, green and every combination in-between. The bulbs themselves are large, bigger than a softball large, and they need to be planted in a container that can handle them. When choosing a container make sure:
- that it has drainage holes (soggy soil equals rotten bulbs)
- it is sturdy/heavy enough to handle the ginormous flowers that will emerge. There is nothing worse than having an Amaryllis flower that won’t stay up-right.
- That it isn’t too big, Amaryllis like to be slightly root bound. A good guideline is to have a pot that is only 5cm wider in diameter than your bulb.
When planting use a well-drained potting mix (GardenWorks Cactus and Succulent mix is great for this) and be sure to plant it so that 1/3 of the bulb is actually sitting above the soil surface (Amaryllis hate getting their necks wet). Water well and then wait for the shoots to emerge. For more specific information on caring for your Amaryllis see the Care Tips below or check out one of the GardenWorks tip sheets on our website.
Hailing originally from the Mediterranean, these lovely, classic clusters of white flowers are loved around the globe. And if you are more of a minimalist and Amaryllis are just a bit much for you, then Paperwhites are going to be your thing. But before I go into the wonders of Paperwhites I have a small disclaimer, there are two types of people out there, those who love the fragrance of Paperwhites and those who don’t. So, you will need to figure out which team you are playing for. Don’t know? Grow them and you will find out, hopefully you will join me in loving the fragrance.
One of the coolest things about Paperwhites is their ability to grow in just water, no soil required. I remember the sense of awe I felt when I first saw Paperwhites growing in a glass vase filled only with decorative pebbles and water. If you have kids this is a great project for them to see the roots forming. But let’s be honest, forget the kids… you should grow them because they just look so good.
If growing Paperwhites in water:
- get yourself a tall glass vase and fill the bottom with some rounded pebbles then nestle the bulbs into the pebbles.
- Then add water, making sure to never let the water go up and over the base of bulb (submerged bulbs equal rotten bulbs), the water is there for the roots not the bulbs.
- Then follow the Care Tips below and make sure to monitor the water.
This method of growing Paperwhites has a few advantages such as the vase keeps the leaves contained and the pebbles weigh the whole thing down so you don’t have any issues with toppling. But you can also plant Paperwhites in soil and they will grow just as well. Just keep in mind the container should be sturdy enough and have drainage holes, similar to what was needed with Amaryllis. Then get creative, add a finishing touch of moss to cover the soil, or stick some decorative twigs into the soil to prop the leaves up, or tie the growing shoots up with a festive golden ribbon. There is so much you can do with Paperwhites.
If you have ever grown Hyacinths in your garden then you know the wonderful fragrance, and believe me I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love the fragrance of these bulbs. Growing them indoors lets you enjoy it on a whole new level, captive fragrance. Like Paperwhites prepared Hyacinths can be grown in either soil or water, and there are even special bulb vases designed for them (Look out for these in one of our stores) The same rules apply to growing these bulbs as to Amaryllis and Paperwhites; so be careful with choosing your container and water them accordingly. Follow the general Care Tips below and you will soon be breathing in the sweet fragrance and enjoying the colourful show of Hyacinths.
I highly recommend trying some indoor bulbs this year. The joy that it brings to the house makes it so worthwhile. Plus, I have to admit that it feels a little naughty to have bulbs, something that is usually reserved for the spring, flowering in your indoor space (whether you’ve had to trick them or not).
General Indoor Bulb Care Tips:
- Choose big firm bulbs and trim off any broken or dead roots
- Plant them up in your preferred method and then place them in a spot that gets bright indirect light. Not enough light will cause them to grow too “leggy” and they will flop over.
- If you want the show to last as long as possible then place them in a cool spot, away from both heat registers and cold drafts. Slightly cooler temperatures will slow down their growth.
- Water lightly when the shoots are emerging and growing (not soggy but not dry)
- Once flowering starts check the water daily, flowering is thirsty business.
Written by: Ingrid Hoff