A fun activity for the winter bound gardener is to force some spring flowering bulbs to bloom out of season. It is fairly easy to do and you can have bright flowers around on those cloudy, cold winter days.

Here are some simple steps:

  1. Plants to Force - You can force tulips (Tulipa), daffodils (Narcissus), grape hyacinth (Muscari), hyacinth (Hycinthus) and many other bulbs. However, be sure to check out a particular cultivars status as a forcing plant. Not all bulb plants are suitable for forcing so be sure that yours are before you start.

  2. Planting the Bulbs - Place the bulbs in a plastic pot like the ones you get with your landscape plants. Be sure it has holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill it about 50% full with potting soil and then place several bulbs on the soil. You should crowd in enough bulbs to cover the entire surface area. Finally, fill the rest of the container with the same material that you used for the bottom. Do not add fertilizer to the pot since it will not help the plant in this instance.

  3. Chill the Pots - Tulips, daffodils and many other (but not all) species of bulbs need to go through a period of cold temperature to trigger the formation of the flower bud and stem within. To force these bulbs to flower, you need to keep them in a cool (35 to 45 degree) place for a minimum of 13 weeks. This can be done in a root cellar or, for most of us, a refrigerator (not the freezer).

  4. Growing - After the chilling requirement has been met, you remove the pots from the cold. Place them where they will indirect sunlight and start to water them like a standard houseplant.

  5. Flowering - It should take about 3 or 4 weeks for the plants to grow to mature size and flower. Keep the plants in a cool place to lengthen the flowering period. If they get too warm, such as in direct south sunlight, the flowers may shatter and fall apart.

  6. After Flowering - When the blooms all fall apart, most bulbs may be planted out in the garden to bloom the following year. Unfortunately this is not true for tulips. Once they have expended all their energy to flower, they seem to be unable to rebuild it after being forced. So, just put the tulip bulbs in your compost pile.


From start to flowering will take about 16 to 18 weeks so you need to back track to figure out when to start the chilling. For example, if you desire flowers by the end of January, you will need to start the chilling around October 1.

It is a good idea to stagger the starting dates a bit so that all of the bulbs don't flower at the same time. Start chilling a few pots one week and then a few more the next and so for a full winter of available flowers.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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