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.
PlantingStart 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.
ConditioningPlace 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.
ForcingWhen 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.