Forcing bulbs to flower indoors is a simple way to bring enjoy blooms indoors any time of year. Options include tulips, paperwhites, amaryllis, daffodils, muscari, and more.
Also see 20 Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall for outdoor ideas.
Grow Flowering Bulbs Indoors
You can grow flowering bulbs indoors any time of year.
Let’s go through the common questions so you can get started.
What does it mean to force bulbs?
When we grow bulbs indoors, we ‘force’ the bulbs to produce flowers by providing conditions that trigger blooming.
Should I force bulbs in soil or water?
You can force bulbs either way.
Your choice may come down to aesthetics. Personally, I love the look of a bulb forced in a clear container with water and pebbles but you do have to stay on top of the care to keep it looking good and growing nicely (more on this below).
With bulbs planted in containers with potting mix, you don’t get to see the beauty of the bulb and roots but it provides a more stable growing environment.
Not all bulbs can be regrown season after season but, if they can, planting in potting mix gives them a better chance at future growth than the water method does.
What kinds of bulbs can I force indoors?
There are lots of bulb choices and they fall into two groups.
1) Warm Climate (Tropical) Bulbs
This group does not require a chilling period before planting and includes amaryllis (Hippeastrum) and paperwhites. Be forewarned that paperwhites have a very strong scent which some people love and others (like me) do not.
2) Hardy Bulbs
These are cold climate bulbs—the same ones we plant outdoors in fall for spring flowers including crocus, daffodil (Narcissus), Dutch iris, tulip, and scilla.
The required chill time varies greatly depending on the type of bulb.
You can either chill them yourself (see instructions below) or purchase them ‘pre-chilled’ or ‘ready to plant indoors’.
Of the chilled bulbs, crocus, hyacinth, muscari, and mini daffodils—all smaller bulbs—are the fastest to force. I also have good luck with tulips.
|Name||Chill Period||Weeks to Bloom|
|Anemone coronaria||6 weeks||6-8 weeks|
|Crocus||15 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Daffodil (Narcissus)||15-17 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata)||15 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Hyacinth||12-15 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Muscari||13-15 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Tulip (Tulipa)||14-20 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Scilla (Squill)||6 weeks||2-3 weeks|
|Snowdrops (Galanthus)||15 weeks||2 weeks|
|Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)||not required||6-8 weeks|
|Paperwhites||not required||3-5 weeks|
How to Chill Bulbs
A drawer in the fridge is usually the best location but anywhere you can provide these conditions is fine.
The goal is to keep them at the right temperature (35 to 45°F | 2 to 7°C), dry, and in darkness for the required period of time (see chart above).
Place them in a paper bag and set a reminder on your phone to follow up.
How to Plant Bulbs Indoors
Be sure your bulbs are in good condition before planting: see 7 Best Beginner Tips for Planting Flower Bulbs for how to judge the health of a flower bulb.
Plant in Potting Mix
If your bulbs came with specific indoor planting instructions, please do follow them.
In general, the best post size will depend on the size of the bulb: you want enough room for roots to grow below the bulb.
And be sure to provide drainage holes: bulbs do not like to sit in soggy conditions.
Large bulbs like amaryllis need a heavier container to anchor the whole thing otherwise it will tip over once the flowers get big.
Before planting, you can give bulbs a head start by soaking their bottoms (only) in a tray of warm water for an hour for an hour or so to hydrate the roots.
I have a picture showing how to tell the top of a bulb from the bottom here.
The roots may be straggly little hairs or larger depending on the bulb. Either way is normal.
After soaking, any dead or dying roots can be trimmed off.
For potting mix, choose an organic potting mix intended for flowering plants.
Smaller bulbs are placed just below soil level in the pot and larger ones like amaryllis should be planted with about a third of the bulb above soil level.
When you plant, the bottom of the bulb faces down and the top (usually pointier) faces up. This is where the leaves and flowers will grow from.
You can dress up the area around the bulb with moss.
After planting, water thoroughly, remove excess water from pot saucer, and sit the pot in indirect light.
Once roots have formed, usually in a few weeks (see chart), move to a sunny location for flowering.
Can I Plant Several Bulbs Together in One Container?
You can, so long as they all have the same needs including light requirements.
Another trick is to start different bulbs in their own containers and, once they are budding, but them together in a larger decorative container.
Force Bulbs in Water
You may want to use traditional forcing jars or create something similar using pebbles or marbles in some sort of watertight glass container.
Forcing this way does require your attention.
The pebbles act as a bulb stand. You want the bottom of the bulb to sit just above water level without sitting in it.
Check daily and top up the water as needed and place in indirect light.
Once roots have established move the container to a sunny location to encourage flowering.
How Long Do Forced Bulbs Take to Bloom?
This can vary quite a bit even with the same species or cultivar. I’ve listed general times in the chart (above) but do check your plant tags in case they have provided this information. You can also save the free bulb forcing calendar here.
Even if the bulb has experienced the required chill time, the quality of the bulb, its genetics, and your indoor growing conditions (light, temperature, humidity, water) all play a role in the timing and quality of the flowers.
I’ve had some tulips pop up in two weeks and others take five. It just depends.
How to Time Forced Bulbs for Holidays
If you want the flowers to bloom during specific dates, you should be able to reverse engineer the dates to get the timing right or close to it.
Here are some timing examples:
- If you want paperwhites in bloom for Christmas and New Years, plant them by mid November.
- They will come into bloom by mid December and should stay in bloom for a number of weeks.
- Start a bit later and you’ll have the buds about to unfold which I find equally beautiful.
- To prepare an amaryllis (a 6-8 week one) for Valentine’s Day, get it planted by mid December. It should be in bloom in early February and stays in flower for a few weeks.
- Alternately, start it a little later and let the recipient have the joy of seeing the blooms unfold at home.
The flower we know as amaryllis isn’t actually an amaryllis, it’s a Hippeastrum—a different genus. They’re native to South America where Brazil exports millions of amaryllis bulbs.
Actual amaryllises are from Africa.
Botanists figured this out over a century ago, but we’ve never changed the common name. So it’s the hippeastrum that we all call amaryllis and that’s the bulb you want. And they’re one of the rare bulbs that can bloom again next year.
- If you want crocuses in bloom indoors in March and they are not yet prechilled, count back 18 weeks (=early November) to find the date they should start chilling.
How to Make Forced Blooms Last Longer
Once roots have formed, our bulbs are moved to more direct sun to encourage flowering.
But, once those leaves and blooms have appeared, you can suspend it in time by returning it to a location with less direct light.
Can I Save Forced Bulbs to Bloom Again Another Time?
Some can. Check the product label and see what it says.
As mentioned, when forced in water, bulbs do not usually gather the energy needed for future blooming.
Forced in soil, some may rally in the future. Amaryllis often gives several seasons of blooms.
To try it, let the entire growth cycle play out. This means letting the leaves die back naturally after flowering. This is when bulbs store energy for the future.
Then, dig it up, rechill if needed for the required amount of time, and plant it again.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Force Bulbs Indoors
Supplies & Materials
- Sit base of bulb in warm water for one hour before planting to hydrate the roots.
- Place enough moistened potting mix in the flower pot to support the bulb so the top third will sit above soil level.
- Place the bulb bottom (flat end) down on potting mix.
- Add potting mix around bulb leaving top third above soil level.
- Water thoroughly and replenish potting mix as needed.
- For next few weeks, keep at room temperature (70F / 21C) away from direct light until roots have formed and leaves start to appear.
- Water as needed.
- Then move to a sunny location for flowering.