Forcing bulbs for holiday and winter color

Amaryllis can be forced to bloom

Certain bulbs can be “forced” in pots – tricked into thinking that they have gone through a winter season and that it is now spring and time to blossom. These include amaryllis, crocus, daffodil, dwarf iris, freesia, grape hyacinth, paperwhite narcissus, scilla, and tulip bulbs. Forced bulbs can make a tasteful seasonal centerpiece for your holiday dinner table, adding color. They can also make a beautiful hostess gift when visiting friends and family or for a colleague in a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange.


Plant in a shallow container or bulb pan (a pot that is wider than it is tall) with the roots facing down.

Amaryllis should be planted in pots with drainage holes. Because they grow very tall, amaryllis will need a pot at least 6 inches wide. Put a small amount of soil in the pot, then the bulb, then more soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. Leave the upper half to two-thirds of the bulb above the soil surface and leave about an inch from the soil surface to the pot’s rim.

Crocus, daffodil, freesia, hyacinth, paperwhite, tulip, and most other smaller bulbs go in pots without drainage holes, with decorative stones, gravel or potting soil. Place two inches of planting medium in the pot, then the bulbs, close together but not touching. Cover them with planting medium, leaving their “noses” exposed. Water thoroughly.

Keep amaryllis, freesia and paperwhites in a sunny spot from now on – they do not require the following “cold and dark” treatment. The amaryllis will bloom in six to eight weeks. Paperwhites bloom within a few weeks and can be forced all winter long, until the end of March.

Cold and Dark Treatment

Now comes the cold and dark treatment, when the bulbs form their roots. A dark, unheated garage or refrigerator is ideal for this. Treatment times vary per bulb: crocus 4-6 weeks; daffodil 12-14 weeks; dwarf iris 15 weeks; hyacinth 12 weeks; tulip at least 8 weeks (15 weeks is better).
Once you see sprouts or roots growing, you can take them out of the dark. This is when the actual “forcing” begins. Bring the pots into the coldest part of the house (50-60 degrees is preferable) with indirect sunlight. Gradually accustom them to warmth and light. Once the shoots are 4-6 inches tall, move them to a bright, sunny window with lots of direct sunlight to stimulate blooming.
To keep the blooms lasting longer, move the plants to indirect light from time to time and to a cooler part of the house during the night. Keep the plants watered throughout the blooming period.

After a bulb has been forced, it is finished and can be discarded in the compost bin.

Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware and can be reached at