How to Force Bulbs Indoors

Plantings of paperwhites can provide continuous indoor blooms.
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Winter is no reason for a gardener to be deprived of living blooms. And making sure you have flowers to brighten the season — including the holidays — means getting started now.

The easiest bulbs to force are paperwhites because they don't require chilling. Forcing — coaxing, actually — is the term used to describe the process that stimulates bulbs to bloom out of season. Among the most commonly forced bulb flowers are amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus, muscari and hyacinths. Certainly they are the easiest. However, other bulbs that can be forced include colchicum and miniature iris. When selecting bulbs for forcing, look for varieties that are specifically recommended.

Spring-flowering bulbs usually require a rooting period of up to 12 to 15 weeks at temperatures between 41to 48 degrees Fahrenheit to produce a good root system, which is essential if they are to be forced into flower.

Add just enough pebbles or glass marbles to hold the bulbs in place. Don't cover them. But paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) don't require the 12-week rooting period. Quick and easy to start, they'll bloom within four to six weeks of forcing and give you indoor blooms not only for the holidays but throughout the winter, if you plant them batch after batch.

Paperwhites are most often (and most easily) potted in shallow containers of gravel. Place bulbs on a layer of gravel and carefully fill in enough gravel to hold bulbs, but not cover them. A crowded grouping will be the most attractive.

Add water to the container. It should reach the base of the bulbs, but not touch the bulbs. Place container in a sunny spot, step back and watch 'em grow! You'll see roots in a day or so, and in three to five weeks you'll have gorgeous flowers.

When the bulbs have finished flowering, add them to the compost pile. Bulbs forced without soil use all their energy for that one bloom, and paperwhites, even when forced in soil, rarely revive in the garden.

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