Forcing bulbs indoors encourages blooming earlier than they naturally would outdoors.
Select your bulbs: Choose the type of bulbs you want to force. Common choices include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses in addition to the popular amaryllis and paperwhites commonly found in stores and garden nurseries this time of year. Ensure the bulbs are firm (not at all squishy).
TIP: Not all bulbs are suitable for forcing, so choose varieties known to perform well indoors. Additionally, each type of bulb may have specific chilling requirements and care instructions. Here's a good selection of bulbs for forcing.
Containers: You can use a variety of containers, such as pots, bowls, or glass vases. The size and depth of the container depend on the type of bulbs you're forcing. Be creative! For example, a crystal salad bowl filled halfway with fresh cranberries in water (not the dried kind) will force paperwhites beautifully and look festive for the holidays.
Planting: Plant the bulbs in well-draining potting mix OR rocks. Bulbs don't have to be in soil to force as long as the roots are kept moist and the water level just below the bottom of the bulb (not touching the bottom of the bulb). You can plant them close together, but avoid overcrowding. The bulbs should be partially exposed above soil if you are using that medium.
Chilling Period: Most spring-flowering bulbs require a chilling period (10 - 15 weeks) to simulate winter. Roots form and stems lengthen during this cooling period. Place the planted bulbs in a dark, cool location, such as a refrigerator or root cellar, for a specified duration. The duration varies depending on the type of bulb - here is a 'chill guide' for you to follow.
Check for Roots: After the chilling period, you may notice roots starting to develop. This is a good sign that the bulbs are ready to grow.
Forcing Phase: Once the chilling period is over, move the bulbs to a location with indirect light and temperatures between 50-60°F (10-15°C). Gradually increase the light exposure to encourage growth. After a few weeks, you can move them to a brighter location with warmer temperatures.
Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. If forcing in water, all you have to do is keep the water level just below the bottom of the bulbs - don't let the water dry out.
Blooming: It can take a few weeks to several months for bulbs to bloom. Keep an eye on their progress and adjust light, temperature, and water as needed.
Enjoy the Blooms: Once the bulbs start to bloom, move them to a location with indirect light to prolong the flowering period. You can also display them in a more prominent location in your home.
Aftercare: After the forced bulbs have finished blooming, you can plant them outdoors in your garden at the appropriate time (usually Fall in our area). Clean the bulbs and their roots with your fingers, and store in a cool dry place in a box with newspaper or shredded paper. However, already forced bulbs may not bloom again the following year because forcing weakens the bulbs.
Here's a great beginner's guide resource to forcing bulbs indoors including chilling and bloom times.