How to Make Bulbs Bloom Indoors (Even in Winter)

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Yeah, we totally get it. You love the seasons, but you miss your garden. But even in the middle of winter, you can enjoy the blooms of springtime bulbs when you “force” them to flower indoors.

“Forcing bulbs is a very old practice that’s been done for generations,” says Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, CEO of John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs and Van Engelen Wholesale Bulbs. “Gardeners on large estates would pot up bulbs, sink them into troughs in the ground or cold frames for 10 to 14 weeks, then bring them into the greenhouse to bloom in the middle of winter.” The process “tricked” the bulbs into thinking they’d experienced winter.

But you don’t need a greenhouse to make bulbs bloom indoors in winter. You can enjoy the blooms of tender bulbs such as amaryllis and paperwhites, which do not require a chilling period to flower, in a few easy steps. For cold-hardy bulbs such as tulips and crocuses that grow in climates with frosty winters, you can get them to bloom indoors, too, if you put in a little extra work ahead of time.

four bulbs in water in a row
Courtesy of Van Engelen/John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs

How to Get Bulbs to Bloom Indoors in Winter

Choose Bulbs That Are Easy to Force

Technically, tender bulbs such as amaryllis and paperwhites don’t have to be “forced.” They’ll bloom simply if you give them the right conditions in your home.

How to Get Amaryllis to Bloom Indoors:

  1. Pot them about four to six weeks before you want them to flower. Your amaryllis may come as a kit (with a pot and potting soil) or as the bulb alone. If choosing your own pot, use fresh soil and make sure the container has drainage holes and is only about one inch wider around than the bulb. Place soil around so it extends about three-quarters of the way up the bulb with the top of the bulb peeking out.
  2. Water around the bulb, and place it in indirect sunlight. Don’t water again until stalk or bud appears, then start watering regularly when the soil feels dry on top.
  3. Rotate the pot as the plant grows to keep the stem growing upright. You’ll have blooms in about a month or more; varieties grown in the Netherlands, will bloom 8 to 12 weeks after potted.

How to Get Paperwhites to Bloom Indoors:

Paperwhites are another easy flower to grow indoors. These also need about four to six weeks to bloom.  

  1. Plant them in potting soil in a container with drain holes, leaving about a quarter of the bulb exposed (pointy end up).
  2. Water well, and place in a cool, dark room until shoots appear, then bring them into bright indirect light. Rotate the pot every few days to keep the stalks straight. The plants also may need staked or tied up with raffia to prevent them from toppling.

Paperwhites also will grow nestled into a layer of pebbles. For this method, add pea gravel to a shallow dish. Place the bulbs on the pebbles, tucking in a little more to keep the bulbs upright. The top of the bulb should remain exposed. Add water until it reaches the base of the bulbs and keep the water level there. Keep the bulbs in a dark space. Then, when leaves emerge, follow the same steps as if planted in soil.

bulbs indoors hyacinth
Niuniu/Getty Images

Plan Ahead for Cold-Hardy Bulbs

Cold-hardy bulbs can be “forced” to bloom if you fool them into thinking they’ve been through winter. Good choices for forcing include some types of tulips, crocus, muscari and hyacinth. Here’s what to do:

  1. Pot the bulbs up in fresh potting soil, packing them in shoulder to shoulder in the container. Make sure the pot has drainage holes, and water well. Hyacinth also can be forced in a special hyacinth vase.
  2. Place the potted bulbs in a cool spot where the temperature is consistently between 35 to 48 degrees; the best spot is inside a spare fridge, or you can try an unheated basement or garage if you live in a cold climate (though temperatures may fluctuate, so this can be an iffy method). “The worst possible thing for bulbs is temperature spiking, which reduces the bulbs’ viability,” says van den Berg-Ohms.
  3. Chill the bulbs for 8 to 15 weeks, depending on the variety. Keep the bulbs in the dark during this time, and keep the pots moist. At the end of the recommended cooling period, bring the pots out into indirect sunlight in a cool room (50 to 65 degrees).
  4. After a few weeks, move the pots into brighter light. Once the flower buds appear, enjoy your potted blooms anywhere in your home.

If all of this seems like too much work—because, yeah, it is a commitment!—purchase pre-potted bulb gardens that have been pre-chilled by the vendor and are ready to break dormancy as soon as you receive them. Bulb gardens also make a great gift idea, so consider treating someone (or yourself!) to some winter blooms this season.

What You Should Know Before Taking on This Project

Should I Save Bulbs That Have Been Forced?

Most bulbs, once they’ve been forced to bloom indoors, should be composted. They’ve put all their energy into putting on a show and won’t bloom again reliably. The exception is amaryllis bulbs, which can bloom well for several years, says van den Berg-Ohms. Leave the stalk and foliage in place, then shuttle outdoors once the weather has warmed up. Bring the pot indoors by July 4th and keep in a dark, cool spot. Don’t water until Halloween. Then place the plant in a bright window and water once. With any luck, your plant will bloom again.

Are Flower Bulbs Toxic to Pets?

Unfortunately, according to the ASPCA, many flowering bulbs—including all parts of amaryllis, tulips, hyacinths, muscari, and paperwhites—are toxic to pets if ingested and can cause GI distress, vomiting and seizures. If your cat or dog is a nibbler, keep these away from them. And call your vet ASAP if you suspect your pet has been munching away; it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

purewow author

Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...