Growing hyacinth in water

Forcing Bulbs

It’s Easy to Coax Bulbs into Bloom All Winter Long

Forcing bulbs into winter bloom was all the rage in the 1800s. Hyacinths were especially popular, since they’re so easy. Here’s everything you need to know to start enjoying this traditional winter-time pleasure yourself.

windowsill full of forced bulbs, Henderson catalog, NYC, 1900

How to Force Hyacinths the Traditional Way

Hyacinths were usually forced in special, pinch-necked vases called “hyacinth glasses” which today are more often called forcing vases. New and reproduction versions are widely available, and older ones can be found at antique shops and on eBay.

Henderson catalog, NYC, 1900. The far left vase
is covered with timothy grass — an antique chia pet!

To force hyacinths on water, set a bulb just above — but not touching — the water in a forcing vase or other container. Put it in a dark, cold area to root for 8-16 weeks. This could be an unheated mudroom, attic, or garage; a cold-frame; or possibly your refrigerator, though many refrigerators are too cold for optimal forcing. The temperature during this rooting period is critical: 40° to 48° F is ideal. Avoid freezing temperatures. The best way to monitor the temperature is to use a maximum-minimum thermometer available from any good garden center.

If the water gets murky, change it. When roots fill the glass and there’s an inch or two of top-growth, bring it into subdued light and warmer but still cool temperatures (about 60° F; again, a max-min thermometer will make this easy). After 7-10 days, move it into bright light, but keep it as cool as you can and avoid direct sunlight. Turn it every day to keep it growing upright.

If your hyacinth spikes start to bloom while much too short, that usually means they didn’t get enough rooting time at 48° and below — which is essential for them to develop the gibberellic acid which allows bloom stalks to lengthen. (This is Mother Nature’s clever mechanism for keeping hyacinths and other bulbs from sending up their bloom stalks during mid-winter thaws.)

How to Force Hyacinths the Impossibly Easy Way

Though experts say hyacinths won’t bloom indoors unless they root at 48° F or below for 8-16 weeks, our customers have taught us that this ain’t necessarily so. Try this: Store bulbs of ‘Lady Derby’ dry in a paper bag in your refrigerator for 8-10 weeks. Then put them on water as you would for regular forcing (see above), anywhere in indirect light. As they grow roots and leaves, give them more light but avoid direct sun. In our experience, they will bloom beautifully! We’ve also had success forcing ‘Gypsy Queen’ this way, so you may want to experiment with it, too.

tazetta narcissus
on pebbles, Hunt
catalog, NYC, 1929

How to Force Narcissus on Pebbles

Tazetta narcissus are cousins to paperwhites, and almost as easy to force. The tazettas we offer include ‘Avalanche’, ‘Early Pearl’, ‘Erlicheer’, ‘Grand Primo’, and ‘Minor Monarque’.

For best results, choose a deeper bowl than for paperwhites because tazettas like more root room. Fill the bowl to within a half-inch or so of the rim with small pebbles, marbles, decorative crystals, etc. Set the bulbs on top and work them gently into the pebbles just a bit to help keep them upright. Fill the bowl with water to — ideally — just below the bottom of the bulbs. Don’t worry too much about keeping the water level below their bases, though, because the pebbles make that hard to determine and, unlike with hyacinths, it doesn’t seem to matter with tazettas.

But this is IMPORTANT: unlike paperwhites, for successful bloom tazettas must be given 2-3 weeks in the dark at temperatures below 50°F (but above freezing) so they can establish roots BEFORE they start their top-growth. And when you bring them into the light after that, they’ll do best if you continue to keep them cool, as in a Victorian parlor.

How to Force Just About Any Bulb in Pots of Soil

Forcing bulbs in pots of soil is even more fool-proof than forcing them on water, and it works with just about every kind of bulb.

Schmidt & Botley catalog,
1915 (image dates from 1893)

Plant bulbs close together (but not touching) just below the surface of the soil — to leave as much room as possible for rooting. For an even more lavish display, you can set one layer of bulbs just above another, alternating so that bulbs are not directly on top of one another — but combining different types of bulbs in one pot is hard to pull off successfully since rooting and blooming times vary. Arrange tulip bulbs with the flat side facing out for a more uniform display of leaves.

Water. Set in a dark, cold place for 8-16 weeks. This could be in an unheated mudroom, attic, or garage; a cold-frame; or your refrigerator, though many refrigerators are too cold for optimal forcing. The temperature during this rooting period is critical: 40° to 48° is ideal. Avoid freezing temperatures. The best way to monitor the temperature is to use a maximum-minimum thermometer available from any good garden center.

Another way to provide a cold dark place for forcing is to dig a trench a couple of feet deep — in your vegetable garden, for example — set the pots in the bottom of it on rocks or something that will provide good drainage, and cover them with at least 18 inches of straw or other mulch.

Keep pots evenly moist but not soggy. When roots show at the hole in the bottom of a pot, and top growth has begun, bring it into a cool spot — 50° to 60°F — with subdued light for a week or two. Move to a brighter spot — a window (but not into direct sun) or under fluorescent lights — but for best results continue to keep it relatively cool (as if the bulbs were outside in the spring) as buds develop and bloom.

What to Do With Forced Bulbs After They Bloom

If you keep your forced bulbs growing till spring, you can plant them outside where they will usually recover to bloom again eventually. It’s also okay to simply throw them away as you would a poinsettia or petunias at the end of the season.

Peter Henderson catalog, NYC, 1900.

For more tips and tidbits, see the Forcing Bulbs section of our Newsletter Archives.

To grow bulbs in pots for bloom OUTDOORS, see our Bulbs in Containers page.

Growing Daffodils Indoors – Forcing Daffodils Into Bloom

Forcing daffodils into bloom is an excellent way to help stave off mid-winter blues. Seeing a bright yellow daffodil indoors while the daffodils outside are still fast asleep under snow is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face. Growing daffodils indoors is not difficult. Let’s look at how you can force daffodils into bloom inside.

Growing Daffodils in Water or Soil

First, choose which growing medium you will use to grow a daffodil indoors. Your choices are water or soil.

If you choose water, you will need to get a forcing glass, which is a cup specially designed to hold the daffodil bulb upright over water. Each forcing glass will hold one daffodil. This is an excellent choice if you only want to grow a few daffodils to brighten up a dark corner.

Forcing daffodils in soil is more common and just as satisfying. You will need a shallow dish and some indoor potting soil. Use a dish

that is big enough to hold all the bulbs you intend to grow and is as deep as the daffodils are tall. The dish should also have drainage holes. If it does not, add a thin layer of gravel to the bottom of the dish.

Choosing Daffodil Bulbs

Next, choose the bulbs you will use to force daffodils. Look for plump bulbs with skin that is not loose. It’s okay if the bulb has sprouted some, just be careful that you do not damage the sprout.

Planting the Daffodil Indoors

If growing in water, fill the forcing glass with plain water, and set the bulb on top of the glass.

If growing in soil, cover the bottom of the dish with soil, high enough so that the top third of the bulb will stick up over the top of the dish when they are planted. Now, place the daffodil bulbs on the soil. They can be placed as tight as side by side. Cover the bulbs with additional soil, leaving the top third of the bulb above the soil. Water the soil, but do not drown the bulbs.

Care of Your Daffodil Indoors

If growing daffodils in water, once your daffodil bulbs have some roots, add 1 teaspoon of vodka. The vodka will stunt the growth of the stem, so that the bulb will be less likely to fall over. It will not affect the blossom at all.

If you are growing daffodils in soil, water as needed. When forcing daffodils, fertilizing is not necessary. The bulb has everything it needs inside it to create a lovely flower, so you do not need to fertilize.

Taking the time to force daffodils in your home can help make the long winter seem much shorter. Forcing daffodils is both easy and fun.

For starters, “forcing” is a misnomer because it sounds too much like work. We’re just tricking the bulbs into thinking winter is over quite a bit sooner than it is. Forcing is an easy sleight of hand that offers the soul-restoring scents and colors of spring at a time of year when spirits sorely need reviving. But you need to plant now, in autumn, to enjoy the results when the snow flies! Although we usually think of forcing Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips, many of the smaller bulbs are also extremely easy and gratifying to force: Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla, Dwarf Irises, and Anemones also will give great results.

Forced bulbs can be divided into two groups: those that require a chilling period and those that don’t. When bulbs do need chilling, what they actually require is many weeks less than typical northern winters. (See the list at the end of this post for details.)

In a nutshell, here’s what you do . . .

Force Bulbs That Need Chilling

Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool but not freezing dark spot for the required minimum time (see below), then bring them into warmth and light in the house. The bulbs think spring has arrived and quickly sprout and flower. It’s that easy — the bulbs do most of the work.

This is a great project to do with young children, if you want to invite the kids or grandkids to participate. The actual planting is a little messy, so it’s a good idea to spread some newspapers to catch any spilled soil, gather all your pots in one spot, and do all the planting at one time.

Containers and Potting Mix

Bulb containers with moistened potting mix

You can use any pot you like to hold bulbs you want to force, as long as it allows room for root growth — about 3-4” of space below the bulbs. This is a great opportunity to showcase flea market finds and tag sale treasures, or your favorite terra cotta pots. If you choose a pot without a drainage hole in the bottom, you’ll have to water your bulbs carefully, because bulbs that sit in soggy potting mix soon will rot. Consider using a ceramic or terra cotta pot if you’re forcing tall Daffodils or Tulips. These flowers can be top-heavy when in full bloom and may topple if grown in lightweight plastic pots.

We recommend that you plant bulbs in a soilless potting mix (available at garden centers and hardware stores). A soilless mix holds moisture but allows excess water to drain away readily.

Potting the Bulbs

To pot the bulbs, begin by placing potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. This is an ideal job for a very young assistant, if you’d like to invite a child or grandchild to join the fun. Add the moistened mix to the container until the pot is about three-quarters full. Set the bulbs root-side down on top of the mix (or on their sides if you can’t tell which end is up, as with Anemone blanda). Space the bulbs much more closely than you would in the garden – they should almost touch. Then add more mix. Cover small bulbs completely with a ½” layer of mix; cover larger bulbs up to their necks, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water thoroughly after potting.

Chilling the Bulbs

You can keep bulbs cool in a refrigerator, but only if there is no fresh fruit stored inside. The ethylene gas released by fruit during its natural ripening process will interfere with flower development. Better to store bulbs in an extra refrigerator, if you happen to have one.

To force cold-hardy bulbs into bloom, you must first encourage them to produce new roots by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time that varies by type of bulb (see listing below). The ideal rooting temperature also varies, but most bulbs flower best if stored at 40-60°F for the first 3-4 weeks after potting, then at 32-40° for the balance of the cooling period – a shift that mimics the drop in soil temperature outdoors as fall turns to winter.

The easiest way to chill bulbs is to put them outdoors and let nature do the rest. To insulate the bulbs from rapid changes in air temperature and from freezing cold, bury the pots in a pile of dry leaves held in place by a plastic tarp or in a pile of mulch, such as bark or wood chip, and cover the pile to prevent formation of a frozen crust. You also can chill bulbs in a cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one; a cold basement; or an unheated garage (provided the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing). If you choose to chill bulbs in the refrigerator, be certain there is no fresh fruit stored inside. Fruit releases ethylene gas as a natural part of its natural ripening process, and the ethylene will interfere with flower development. In locations other than a refrigerator, it may be difficult to arrange for the ideal shift in temperature described above. Fortunately, most bulbs haven’t read the manuals, and they will root beautifully if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40°F during the rooting time. Professional growers fill huge walk-in coolers with potted bulbs and control the temperatures precisely. Using an old refrigerator in a basement can deliver great results without ever touching the temperature controls.

The possible downside to outside storage has four little legs. If mice or other rodents have access to your bulbs, they will devour all but the varieties that are poisonous or distasteful to them (such as Narcissus, more commonly known as Daffodils). Protect potted bulbs with steel mesh, such as hardware cloth.

Please note that moisture is as important as temperature in the successful chilling of bulbs. Check the potting mix in the pots every few weeks and water thoroughly when the surface is dry to the touch.

Toward the end of the recommended rooting time, begin checking the pots for signs that the bulbs have rooted. If you see fleshy white roots poking through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots, the bulbs are usually ready to bloom. If you don’t see roots, give the bulbs more time in cold storage. Don’t judge readiness by the appearance of shoots from the tops of the bulbs; without roots, the bulbs won’t flower properly.

Once the bulbs have rooted, you don’t have to bring them out of the cold immediately. Most will tolerate extra chilling time, allowing you to orchestrate a succession of winter bloom.

Bringing the Bulbs into Bloom

Forced bulbs under grow lights. A sunny window also provides adequate light for bulb forcing.

When the bulbs have rooted, bring the pots out of cold storage and set them in a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperature stays below 65°F). Bright light will help keep the leaves and flower stems compact; in weak light, they tend to flop. You’re likely to find that the bulbs have produced white shoots during cold storage. Sunlight quickly turns them green.

Keep a close eye on the moisture needs of the bulbs as they send up leaves and flower stems. Initially, the bulbs probably won’t need to be watered more frequently than once a week (if that much), but by the time they bloom, you may need to water them every day or two.

Most bulbs will bloom 2-5 weeks after they come out of the cold, heralding spring with their bright colors and sweet fragrances. Duration of bloom varies with the type of bulb and the variety but is generally shorter than you’d expect of bulbs in the garden. Warm temperatures and low humidity indoors speed the decline of the flowers. Shifting the pots out of direct sunlight and moving them to a cool room at night helps prolong bloom.

When the blooms fade, we usually recommend that you toss the bulbs on the compost pile. If you keep them in a sunny window and continue to water them, forced bulbs can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years. Tulips rarely bloom again, but Daffodils, Crocus, and Grape Hyacinth are more likely to be worth the effort of planting.

Forcing Hyacinths Without Soil

The whiskery white roots of some Hyacinth bulbs appeared just 24 hours after they were removed from cooling and were set atop glass gems with water below.

Hyacinths can be forced in pebbles and water, or in glass jars. They still require a cool rooting period if forced this way. Special forcing glasses, in use since Victorian days, are shaped like an hourglass and keep the bottom of the bulb dry—only the bulb’s roots reach down into the water. If you are using pebbles in another type of container, place a 2-3” layer of pebbles, such as pea stone, marble chips, or river rocks, in the bottom of the bowl or pot. Set the bulbs on top of the pebbles then fill with more pebbles, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulbs exposed. Add enough water to create a reservoir for the roots, but be sure the bases of the bulbs stay above water level. If they sit in water, the bulbs will rot. Then place the container in a dark, cool area (40-50°F) for 4-8 weeks. Check the water level occasionally and add more water as necessary, keeping the water level below the bottom of the bulb. When roots have developed and leaves begin to grow, it’s time to move the bulb into a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperatures stay below 65°F). Bulbs forced in water can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years – if ever.

Recommended Cooling Period

Professionals often recommend very lengthy cold periods, but we’ve had good results at home using the minimums listed here. Remember that bulbs can keep chilling for longer than the minimum. Please note that Tulips do require the longest period to flower successfully.

Recommended Rooting Times for Cold-Hardy Bulbs

Going on a weekend trip? Want to prevent wilting during hot summer weather? Keep thirsty plants happy with a quick and easy DIY beer bottle watering globe!

Summers can be mighty brutal for my Brooklyn fire escape garden, and sometimes even mulching isn’t enough to prevent my most water-hungry plants from drying out. So, to keep my more drought-sensitive fruits and veggies blooming merrily along, I like to use glass beer or soda bottles as watering globes. It’s an inexpensive and simple household trick, and it really helps keep my container garden green—especially when life gets busy! (It’s great for indoor houseplants too!)

Note: If you’ve got plants that don’t like a ton of water—cacti or succulents, for example—this isn’t the right watering solution for you. Make sure your plants actually like to be watered regularly before giving this a try.

Supplies:
* Glass beer or soda bottle, empty and thoroughly cleaned (wine bottles are ideal for larger plants)
* Water

Tools:
* Small shovel or trowel

Step 1:
Water your plant thoroughly, ensuring that the soil is completely soaked through.

Use a small trowel to dig a hole in the wet dirt that’s deep enough to insert the first few inches of the bottle neck into the soil. You’ll want the bottle to fit snugly down inside, so keep the hole on the narrower side.

Step 2:
Fill a clean glass beer or soda bottle with water.

Step 3:
Position the bottle over the hole, then quickly invert it, pressing the opening/bottle neck firmly down into the soil. If needed, you can use the heel of your hand on the top of the bottle for leverage.

Once inserted into the hole, the full neck of the bottle should be hidden (the hole you dug in step 1 will help ease the way, but you’ll want to continue pressing until the neck can no longer be seen). It’s normal to see a bit of soil floating to the top of a newly installed watering globe.

When you’re finished, the bottle should feel completely secure and stable to the touch—there should be no danger of it tipping over or falling out of the pot.

Note: The soil must already be wet when you insert the watering globe into a pot. When you start with wet soil, it creates a seal with the bottle’s opening, allowing the water in the bottle to be pulled naturally into the soil as needed to maintain the plant’s moisture level as water is used/evaporates.

Step 4:
When needed, remove and refill the bottle.

If you have trouble getting a good seal, press soil back into the hole, thoroughly water the plant, then return to step 1.

Very thirsty strawberries. Drink up, my pretties! #FireEscapeGarden #Brooklyn

A video posted by Haley Pierson-Cox (@thezenofmaking) on May 28, 2015 at 2:59pm PDT

Here’s a quick video of my beer bottle watering globe in action. Just look at those thirsty strawberries! They’re setting fruit, so they drank a full bottle in fewer than 24 hours. That’s pretty impressive! (I, for my part, spent those hours giggling at the idea of my strawberries guzzling from a beer bottle.)

While I’m certainly not the first person to come up with the recycled-bottle-as-plant-nanny idea, I can definitely speak to its efficacy. I hope this simple trick will help you keep your plants healthy and green all summer long!

Now, on the takin’ care of business front, I guess it’s time to claim my blog (mysteriously listed twice) on Bloglovin. So, if that’s your thing, I’d recommend using the first link:

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Forcing Flower Bulbs In Water: How To Grow Flower Bulbs In Water

Forcing bulbs indoors in water is an easy way to enjoy early spring blooms. It is common to bring in a branch of forsythia or other early blooming plant and force it to flower in a vase of water, but can flower bulbs grow in water? Growing bulbs in water is easy but you need to provide the proper amount of chilling time and choose big, fat, healthy bulbs for the project.

Can Flower Bulbs Grow in Water?

Even a novice gardener can learn how to grow flower bulbs in water. You only need a few materials, some fresh water and your choice of bulbs. Not all spring bulbs are good choices for forcing but you can try daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, crocus, and many more. Provide the right container, lighting and clean water and properly chilled bulbs can fill your home with their winter blasting color and form.

While most bulbs are grown in soil, the bulb itself is actually a storage unit with plentiful carbohydrates for growth and root forming cells. The plants won’t last long but the fuel inside the bulb is enough to produce some foliage and flowers indoors for a period of time. The first step is to pick good healthy bulbs without any mold or

soft spots. The bulbs should be large and without blemish. If the bulb is not pre-chilled, use the following chart or give the bulb 3 months on average for chilling:

  • Daffodils – 12-15 weeks
  • Tulips – 10-16 weeks
  • Crocus – 8-15 weeks
  • Grape hyacinth – 8-15 weeks
  • Iris – 13-15 weeks
  • Snowdrop – 15 weeks
  • Hyacinth – 12-15 weeks

Forcing flower bulbs in water still requires the plant to experience cold to force the embryo inside to break dormancy when faced with warmer temperatures. Place the bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator to trick them into releasing dormancy early.

Choosing Containers for Growing Bulbs in Water

Bulbs that grow without the stabilizing strength of soil tend to flop over, resulting in a less than appealing display. In order to prevent this, use a container that is at least as tall as the flower stalks will grow.

A clear container is fun, because it allows you to watch the roots and shoots form, but you can use any container that will support the leaves and stems and holds water. There are specific vases shaped like an hour glass which support the bulb growth while forcing flower bulbs in water and have an attractive appearance.

How to Grow Flower Bulbs in Water

Forcing bulbs indoors in water may be done by simply submerging the root zone or you can get fancy and suspend the bulb above the water so only the roots are in liquid. This method prevents possible rotting from extended submersion. The vases made for forcing bulbs suspend the bulb over the water source. You may also take a tall vase and fill the bottom with pebbles or decorative glass beads. The roots will grow into the pebble and water mixture while the bulb stays high and dry.

Arrange the bulbs with the pointed side up on top of the pebbles or beads, add just enough water to just under the bottoms of the bulbs. Keep the container in a room with bright, indirect light and watch the roots form. Add water as necessary to keep the level just where the root zone is forming.

Over time you will see leaves and stems. Move the plant to a lighter area where temperatures are at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C.). Turn the vase so the stems grow straight and don’t lean towards the sun. Most bulbs will flower in 2 to 3 weeks after their chilling period.

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