Indoors, a decorative container with paperwhites will fill an entire room with sweet fragrance and brightly colored tulips or Daffodils will cheer up any rainy, gray day. The quick growth and flower development make bulb forcing a fun and rewarding project that is great to do yourself or with kids.
As with planting tulips and hyacinths outdoors, they must first be chilled by storing them at 35-45° F, such as in a refrigerator crisper drawer, for a minimum of 6 weeks and up to 14 weeks. This can be done after you have planted them in the container if space in you refrigerator allows. It's important to avoid storing bulbs near ripening fruit; the fruit gives off ethylene gas which can damage the flower inside the bulb. Once removed from cool storage, bulbs must be planted immediately. Remember, only tulips and hyacinths need to be chilled.
Steps for Forcing Bulbs Indoors
You will need the following materials: bulbs, containers, and a planting medium, such as, gravel, marbles, sand, or Legos; be creative. The best bulbs for forcing indoors include paperwhites (see additional notes at the bottom of the page), tulips, amaryllis, hyacinths, daffodils, and crocus. Unlike forcing bulbs for outdoor use, it is best to stick with a single type of bulb in each container because of the importance of planting depth and the level that the water should be maintained in relation to the bottom of the bulb; if you would like to mix different types in the container, try to select types that have similar sized bulbs.
- Choose healthy bulbs. Avoid bulbs that are dry and withered, spongy or moldy. In general, the larger the bulb for its type, the more flowers. Pre-chill your bulbs if needed. (see the Special Note above)
- Fill your container with the medium of choice; leave just enough room so when the bulbs are placed in the container, the growing tip is even with the top of the container. Exclude this step if you are using a specially designed bulb forcing vase that has a restriction at the top designed to hold the bulb above the water.
- Place the bulbs in the container; be sure that they have about 1/2 inch space between the bulbs as they will rot if they touch.
- Cover the bulbs with the medium to help stabilize the bulb as growth begins; allow the growing tips to remain above the medium.
- Fill the container with water to a level just below the bottom of the bulbs. Do not allow the water to remain in contact with the bulb as they will rot; it is best to have the water 1/3-1/2 inch below the bottom of the bulb; the roots will emerge and find their way to the water.
- Place the completed container in a cool, dark place to allow root development; once started, move to a bright, well lit spot; if you are forcing tulips or hyacinths, refer to the special notes above.
When growth begins, it is best to keep the bulbs in a spot with very bright light; be sure to turn the container every two days to keep the growth straight as the plant will want to grow toward the light.
Paperwhites will often stretch and become floppy when forced in the warmth of our homes. Follow these easy steps to keep your paperwhites compact and upright.
- Once the roots begin growing and the green shoot on top reaches about 1-2", pour off the existing water.
- Replace the water with a solution of 4 - 6% alcohol, as described below. Continue to use the alcohol solution for future watering.; you should see results in a few days.
How to Make the Alcohol Watering Solution
Many liquors are only labeled as "proof", not percentage of alcohol. Don’t confuse the two. To determine what percentage alcohol you have, divide the proof in half, so an 86 proof bourbon is 43% alcohol. You can use any hard liquor or rubbing alcohol; don’t use wine or beer because they are too high in sugar. The alcohol content needs to be less than 10% or your plants will overdose and severe growth problems will occur. You will have to do some math to get the solution down to 4-6% alcohol. To convert your booze to 5% alcohol, just divide the percentage alcohol by 5 and then subtract 1.That will tell you how many parts water to mix with your 1 part alcohol. Example: an 80 proof vodka is 40% alcohol so 40 is divided by 5 equaling 8; 8 minus 1 = 7... so, mix 7 parts water to 1 part alcohol. The parts can be tablespoons, cups, quarts, or gallons.
Simply use this chart to convert your alcohol to a 5% solution for watering.
|10% Alcohol||1 Part Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|25% Alcohol||4 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|15% Alcohol||2 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|30% Alcohol||5 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|20% Alcohol||3 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|35% Alcohol||6 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|
|40% Alcohol||7 Parts Water to 1 Part Alcohol|