Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Forcing Bulbs for Christmas

Ready to cultivate some Christmas cheer? Forcing bulbs can deliver beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays—if you start them now! Hint: Potted bulbs also make a great hostess gift. Most flower bulbs must be chilled for a specific period of time in order to bloom ahead of their natural schedule (and in time for Christmas). From amaryllis to hyacinth to tulips, see our bulb-forcing guide and planting tips for flower-by-flower instructions.

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 Planting

Start by selecting large, firm and blemish-free bulbs. Choose a container that is at least 6 inches in diameter and twice the height of the bulbs. (If the pot has large drainage holes, place a piece of netting inside, over the holes, to keep soil from escaping.) Fill the container so that when a bulb is placed on the soil, its tip will be ½ to 1 inch below the rim. Set the bulbs (tips up) close together in the container and press the bases gently into the soil. Add more potting soil until just the tips show. Water thoroughly. Label containers with the type of bulb and date planted.

 Conditioning

Place potted bulbs in a cool, dark location, such as an unheated basement, garage or outdoor shed where the temperature stays between 35°F and 48°F. (Paperwhites and amaryllises, two holiday favorites, do not require chilling, but the bulbs must be kept outside of the pots in a cool location—40°F to 50°F is ideal—until roots develop.) Be sure the soil surrounding potted bulbs stays evenly and continuously moist during the chilling period.

 Forcing

When you see shoots emerging 2 inches above the surface of the soil, it’s time to move your containers. Once potted bulbs are moved to a warmer (55°F to 65°F), bright, indoor location, they will begin to bloom. The flowers should appear within two to five weeks. When the flower buds begin to open, place your containers in an area that has bright, indirect daytime light and nighttime temperatures between 60°F and 65°F. Keep the soil evenly moist, turn the pots every other day to encourage straighter stems, and feed weekly with a half-strength solution of houseplant fertilizer.

 Amaryllis

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: The statuesque stems and trumpet-shaped flowers on these sturdy bulbs make you look like an expert gardener with hardly any effort.

Planting tips: Plant so that the upper half of the bulb sits above the soil.

Chilling time: None

 Crocus

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: Dainty, cup-shaped petals in white, yellow, violet, lavender or stripes give chilly days the feel of spring.

Planting tips: They can be forced in pebbles and water as well as potting soil; they bloom best where indoor temperatures are between 55°F and 65°F.

Chilling time: 14 to 15 weeks

 Daffodil

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: These splashy blooms—in yellow, white, orange, red, pink, apricot or cream—make it impossible to be grouchy.

Planting tips: Plant in the garden after blooms are spent and foliage yellows.

Chilling time: 14 to 15 weeks

 Freesia

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: The delicate, calming scent is aromatherapy in a pot; old-fashioned varieties, like Allure and Excelsior, are the most fragrant.

Planting tips: Plant the bulb with the top one-third above the potting mix.

Chilling time: 14 weeks

 Hyacinth

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: The sublime fragrance of these 12-inch flower spikes (which bloom only 1 to 2 weeks after they’re brought indoors) can fill a room.

Planting tips: Plant in potting soil, in water alone (1 bulb per jar or vase) or in pebbles and water.

Chilling time: They are available either prechilled or unchilled (requiring a 4- to 10-week chilling period).

 Iris

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: The lush Dutch iris conjures Monet’s garden in May; the netted iris does too, but with a delicate violet fragrance. Both flower in two weeks once indoors.

Planting tips: The best bulbs for forcing are the Dutch iris (Iris x hollandica) and netted iris (Iris reticulata).

Chilling time: 12 to 16 weeks

 Paperwhite

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: These reliable bulbs are powerfully aromatic and divinely elegant.

Planting tips: These can be forced in potting soil or in pebbles and water.

Chilling time: None

 Snowdrop

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: In the ground, these bulbs can naturally bloom weeks before crocuses; in the house, the delicate, bell-shaped flowers are ideal for intimate displays.

Planting tips: Cover the bulbs completely with potting soil.

Chilling time: 2 to 15 weeks

 Tulip

Forcing bulbs for Christmas: 9 beautiful blooms to brighten your holidays

Why we love them: There’s a color and shape for every taste—from dainty to shaggy to regal.

Planting tips: Plant as many bulbs as you can fit in the container to create a full display of blooms.

Chilling time: 14 to 20 weeks