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Forcing Bulbs

Martha Stewart Living Television

In late winter and early spring, pots of flowering bulbs, such as bright-yellow miniature daffodils or purple hyacinths, add a touch of cheerful color to a room and make wonderful centerpieces for a table.

All hardy spring bulbs require a period of inactivity before they can bloom. Normally, they rest in the frozen ground, but you can simulate winter rest in your refrigerator to force the bulbs early. This simple technique produces stunning results in a very short time. Planting bulbs in mid-November means you will have flowering plants on your table by mid-March.

Choose the best bulbs available. They should be dense and heavy, and free from mold or mildew. Also, consider how much rest time you'll need to allow for the bulbs. Miniature 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils require only eight to 10 weeks of cold. But bulbs like tulips, regular-size daffodils, grape hyacinths, and dwarf irises will need 14 weeks of cold sleep, and then another two to three weeks to achieve full bloom.

Some bulbs are more easily forced than others. Martha used daffodils 'Tete-a-Tete' but you can try any of the following: Crocus Chrysanthus, Iris Reticulata 'Joyce,' Iris Reticulata 'Natasha,' Iris Reticulata 'Harmony,' Muscari Latifolium, Narcissus Cyclamineus, Daffodil 'Rijnvelds,' or Grape Hyacinth.

Tools and Materials

  • Container with drainage hole, such as a terra-cotta pot
  • Potting soil
  • Daffodil 'Tete-a-Tete' or hyacinth bulbs
  • Plastic bag
  • Light stakes or sticks
  • Raffia or twist ties

Forcing Bulbs How-To
1. Cover the drainage hole of your container with a clay shard or a piece of screen. Fill it with soil mix, allowing room for the bulbs to sit just below the rim. You will need at least 2 inches of soil below the base of your bulbs.

2. Place the flat side of the bulbs against the edge of the container. Bulbs should be positioned as closely together as possible. It is okay if they touch: The closer they are, the fuller they will look when they bloom. Cover with soil.

3. To prevent the soil from drying out, put the container in a plastic bag.

4. Place the container in the refrigerator for eight to 10 weeks (longer if you are planting larger daffodils or tulips). Every few weeks, remove the condensation from the bag and check that the soil is still moist.

5. When white shoots first appear, take the container out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic bag. Set the container in indirect sunlight. For the first week, keep it in a cool place, about 60 degrees.

6. Once the sprouts begin to turn green, move the container to a sunny window. The temperature should still be cool, about 68 degrees. If it's too warm, the stems will grow long and leggy, giving the plant a gangly look. Bulbs need a lot of water at this stage, so check them daily. Daffodils may need support; you can use light stakes or sticks tied to the stems with raffia or twist ties.

Comments (5)

  • rbrads2003 14 Feb, 2009

    I have many tulip and daffodil bulbs I would like to plant outside in a container. I would like to force them, because I live in Florida, but the container is too large to fit in the refrigerator. Can I put the bulbs in the fridge by themselves without planting them? Then once they have sat in the cold for a while, remove them to plant them in soil?

  • rbrads2003 14 Feb, 2009

    I have many tulip and daffodil bulbs I would like to plant outside in a container. I would like to force them, because I live in Florida, but the container is too large to fit in the refrigerator. Can I put the bulbs in the fridge by themselves without planting them? Then once they have sat in the cold for a while, remove them to plant them in soil?

  • RedBasilGreen 17 Dec, 2008

    BoxerLover, you're most likely allergic to the anti-fungal powder that is dusted onto ALL types of bulbs, so beware when doing your spring/fall plantings! It is a major irritant to skin, eyes, lungs... so yes, wear gloves, indeed!

  • daisy97 26 Mar, 2008

    At the end by mistake Boxerlove wrote Where gloves instead of wear gloves!
    Just a thought!

  • BoxerLover 7 Feb, 2008

    Just a warning... I gave this as a Christmas Present to my mother-in-law, and while wrapping...(sticking the bulbs in a planter box full of raffia), I found myself highly allergic to the hyacinth bulbs. I broke out in a major rash, itching all Christmas day... well in between the Benadryl naps! Just beware.. and where gloves!