How To Force Bulbs for Indoor Blossoms

Posted on Nov 20, 2014

Paperwhite and Amaryllis bulb forcing vases

Forcing bulbs for indoor blossoms is easy!

Let’s face it; this time of year, no matter how many windows you may have, it’s hard to keep the home bright. Since the sun is setting before 4:30 PM on our gray Portland days, we figured this would be a good time to share one of our favorite tricks to add a little indoor color and the smells of springtime to our homes: forcing bulb for indoor blossoms.

How to force bulbs? It’s very quite easy. During winter, bulbs usually live in a state of dormancy, waiting for signs of spring to become active and begin to grow. Your task in forcing bulbs is to trigger active growth by simulating spring, even though it may be freezing winter outside.

Selecting Your Bulb

There are many popular bulbs for indoor forcing. Our favorite are giant, dramatic amaryllis species and dainty, fragrant narcissus, also known as paperwhites. These are holiday classics, and are always our standbys – we carry 3 species of amaryllis and 5 different paperwhites in the nursery. Amaryllis, when forced, shoot out numerous flower spikes and paperwhites have lots of flowers per stalk.

Paperwhite and Amaryllis bulbs for indoor forcing

Paperwhite and Amaryllis bulbs are our favorites

Other popular bulbs for forcing include crocus, hyacinth, and freesia.

How To Force Bulbs

Bulbs only become active after a period of dormancy; If you’re trying to force bulbs that you’ve dug out of your own garden, make sure that they’ve chilled in a cold, dry place for a good long time since they were actively growing. (The bulbs that we sell at Pistils have already sat through dormancy and are ready for forcing).

Force paperwhite bulbs in glass vessel with pebbles.

You can force paperwhites in a glass vessel with pebbles.

Bulbs can be forced in soil or in water; we prefer water, as, if you force your bulb in a glass vessel, it’s fun to watch the hydroponic roots grow, and gives everything a cleaner look.

The key is to place your bulb so that only the very bottom gets wet. Our favorite way to do this is to fill our glass vessel with pebbles of varying colors and sizes and nestle the bulbs in on top. Most bulbs can be packed in pretty tightly. Then, just fill the vessel with water, just up to the bottom of the bulbs.

Paperwhite forcing in jar with pebbles

Place bulbs tightly in vessel so only roots get wet.

Alternately, bulb forcing vessels are especially designed to hold bulbs at the perfect level to get just the bottom of the bulb wet. Plus, they look pretty amazing.

Get Paperwhites “Drunk” to Stunt Growth

Paperwhite bulb forcing vase with hydroponic roots

Bulb forcing vases allow you to see the hydroponic roots grow

Some bulbs, like paperwhites, grow quite tall. Unfortunately, they sometimes fall over. But you can stunt their growth by adding a little booze to their water! That’s right – When the bulb has about 2-3” of growth, pour off the water, and replace it with a solution of alcohol at about 4-6%. Any hard liquor will work – just make sure to dilute it appropriately by checking the proof of your liquor.

That’s it! just set the your vessel in a bright spot, and within a few days, you’ll begin to notice root and stem growth, and in a few weeks you’ll have blossoms — just in time for the holidays!


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  5. Jennifer
    August 12, 2019

    I am attempting to try this method with Dahlias. Do you think it will work? Or is there a different way, that you would suggest?


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