Forcing Flowering Bulbs Indoors by Pat Naughton

Why wait for spring to enjoy beautiful blooms when you can trick bulbs into thinking it’s spring. Forcing bulbs to bloom indoors is very simple. Most bulbs require a cooling period to make the bulb experience winter conditions. During this time the roots begin to form and the stem begins to lengthen. This involves planting the bulb in a container and then placing it in a cool location with a temperature range from 35 to 55 degrees for 10 to 15 weeks. December is too late for this approach.

Paper white narcissus and amaryllis are two bulbs that do not require a cooling period. They are readily available at nurseries and home improvement stores. Paper White is perhaps the easiest bulb to force. By starting a few bulbs every two weeks you can have blooms through the end of March. Start by placing 2 to 3 inches of pea gravel in a bowl without drainage. The gravel should be an inch below the top of the container. Then fill with water up to the top of the gravel. Finally set the bulbs on top of gravel. Keep the water level up and the leave the container in low light. Once you see roots and shoots move the container into direct sunlight. Blooms should begin in two to three weeks.

Amaryllis bulbs can be purchased in pre-potted box kits. They make a nice Christmas present for any gardener. You can also purchase amaryllis bulbs at garden centers or mail order. Amaryllis bulbs do best when pot bound. They don’t need a lot of soil. Select a pot that allows for one inch of soil on the sides and two inches below. Use a quality grade potting mix. Plant with the tip up and leave 1/3 to 1/2 of the top exposed. The key to getting the plant off to a good start is heat. Water very sparingly in the beginning, once a week is enough. Overwater will kill the plant. Keep the container in a warm location. Adding bottom heat with a seed starter warming pad is beneficial. Once the sprouts appear water more frequently. As the stem grows, rotate the pot each day so the stem stays straight. After the flower blooms you can fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer. To sustain blooms longer move the plant to a cooler location during the night.

An amaryllis can grow outdoors in hardiness zones 7 to 8 or higher. Brunswick County hardiness zone is 8B, which makes it suitable. After the risk of frost has passed, plant the bulb outdoors the same way it was planted indoors, leaving 1/3 of the top exposed. The bulb will continue to grow. It will return to its regular bloom cycle of blooming in late spring.

Photos from NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolkit.