Blooming baskets and pots of brightly colored forced bulbs make a fabulous holiday or winter gift for others and ourselves. What better way to dress up the holiday home or cheer up a long, cold winter, reminding us of impending spring?

The forcing process should begin in September or early October if you want the bulbs to be blooming when given in late November or December. If you are starting late, no worries, just print these easy instructions to give with your potted bulbs and let the recipient do the rest.

Forcing Bulbs in 10 Easy Steps

  1. Count backwards from the desired bloom date the number of weeks required for bloom plus the number of weeks required for cooling. This is the planting date. To use your forced bulbs as a blooming Christmas gift, you will have to plant in September.
  2. Select a container that has drainage holes and is at least twice as tall as the unplanted bulb. There is an exception for paperwhites that you plan to grow in stone. These should be placed in a container without drainage holes.
  3. Mix a good bulb fertilizer into your potting soil according to directions on the package.
  4. Fill enough of your container with potting soil so that when the bulb is placed on top of the soil the tip of the bulb sits slightly above the lip.
  5. Place your bulbs on top of the soil. Keep them close without touching each other or the container.
  6. Continue to fill the area between the bulbs with soil. Fill until slightly below the lip.
  7. Water the soil gently, allowing excess to drain.
  8. Refrigerate potted bulbs for the appropriate amount of time. Check frequently and water as necessary to keep the soil moist.
  9. Gradually acclimate planted bulbs to a warm, bright location when their required cooling time has been completed. Move back out of direct sun and into a cooler location when the bulbs finally flower to prolong the blooms.
  10.  Rotate container frequently to produce straight stems.

Post Bloom

After flowering, cut back flower stems and place your containers back in full sun. Continue to water until the foliage dies back naturally. When the foliage is completely spent, place containers in a cool, dry place until early next fall when the bulbs may be safely planted into the garden. Forced bulbs cannot be forced a second time. Paperwhites will never bloom again and should be discarded after forcing. Previously forced bulbs, after planting in the ground, may skip a year’s bloom but will eventually return to their former beauty and regular schedule.