How to Force Daffodil Bulbs

Tuck these spring-flowering bulbs into containers while the weather's chilly for an early touch of spring.
Field of Daffodils

Field of Daffodils

For best results in forcing daffodils, start with big, plump bulbs. Look for cultivars that are recommended for forcing.

Photo by: Susan Warren Photography / Shutterstock.com

Susan Warren Photography / Shutterstock.com

For best results in forcing daffodils, start with big, plump bulbs. Look for cultivars that are recommended for forcing.

Once the mercury drops, spring can feel far away. As plants go dormant in the cold, the landscape becomes bare and brown.  

But this often dreary time of year is perfect for forcing daffodil bulbs. Their brilliant colors and sweet perfumes can help you wait out the winter. 

Forcing daffodils—coaxing the bulbs to bloom when you want them to, rather than waiting for Mother Nature to open their flowers—is easy, even for beginners. 

Follow these simple steps to force your daffodils in soil: 

  1. Decide when you want your bulbs to flower and count backwards to know when to plant. Daffodils need to be kept in cold storage for at least 13 to 15 weeks, and they need another 3 or 4 weeks in a warm location for the blooms to open.
  2. Use a clean container with drainage holes, or scrub and rinse a used one. Cover the holes with a few bits of broken pottery.
  3. Loosely fill the container half-full with potting mix and add the bulbs. Three to four can fit into a 6-inch pot; use more for a larger container. Daffodils look better when they’re slightly crowded. Stick to one variety per container or they may flower at different times and you won't get a good display.
  4. Cover the bulbs with more soil, leaving an inch of space below the rim of the pot so you can water easily.
  5. Label the bulbs and add the planting date.
  6. Water thoroughly and put the containers in a refrigerator or other cold location that stays between 35 and 45 degrees F for 13 to 15 weeks. If you use a refrigerator, keep them away from ripening fruits which may give off ethylene, a gas that harms the flowers. Keep the bulbs moist, but not soggy. Roots should start poking out of the bottom of the pots in 5 or 6 weeks followed by shoots on top.
  7. After at least 13 weeks in cold storage, move the pots into a warm room. Give them a sunny spot and expect the flowers to open in 3 or 4 weeks. To help the blooms last longer, move the bulbs out of direct sunlight after the flowers appear. 

When the flowers fade, you can transplant your bulbs into the garden in early spring. It may take them a year or two to recover from being forced, but they’ll often re-bloom on nature’s schedule. 

Don’t have a spare refrigerator to chill your bulbs? Plant them in terra-cotta pots, soak the pots in water and keep them in a cold frame for 13 to 15 weeks. Check the pots often and keep them damp. Cover the pots in very cold weather or they can freeze and break. 

Another alternative is to store your potted bulbs in an unheated basement or crawlspace, on a porch or in a garage that doesn’t freeze. Again, keep them damp, not soggy, and keep them in the dark.

If you live where the winter temperatures don't usually drop below 25 degrees F, you can store your potted bulbs under a layer of straw in the garden.  

To force daffodil bulbs in water: 

  1. Choose a container 4 to 6 inches deep without drainage holes, and fill it half-full with pebbles. 
  2. Put the bulbs on top of the pebbles so the tips are even with the rim of the pot. Add more pebbles to hold them in place, leaving the top 2/3 of the bulbs exposed. 
  3. Add water to the container, keeping it just below the top of the pebbles. If the bulbs touch the water, they may rot. 
  4. Store the container in a cool, dark spot that doesn’t freeze. Refill the water as needed.
  5. In a couple of weeks, gently tug on the bulbs to see if there’s any resistance, which means that roots are forming. When they're ready, move the bulbs to a warm, sunny spot. Leaves should emerge in a week or so, followed by flowers in 3 to 5 weeks. 
  6. To help them last longer, move your opened daffodils to a spot with indirect light. Keep them watered until the flowers fade, and compost the bulbs when they’re finished. Daffodils forced in water usually won’t bloom again.
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