Growing Tulips Indoors: How To Force Tulip Bulbs

Growing Tulips Indoors: How To Force Tulip Bulbs

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By: Heather Rhoades

Forcing tulip bulbs is on the minds of many gardeners when the weather outside is cold and fierce. Growing tulips in pots is easy with a little planning. Keep reading to learn more about how to force tulip bulbs in the winter.

How to Force Tulip Bulbs

Forcing tulips starts with choosing tulips bulbs to force. Tulips are commonly not sold “ready to force” so you most likely will need to prepare them. In the early fall, when spring bulbs are being sold, purchase some tulip bulbs for forcing. Make sure that they are firm and do not have any blemishes. Keep in mind that larger tulip bulbs will result in larger tulip flowers.

Once you have bought your tulip bulbs for forcing, place them in a cool, dark place for 12 to 16 weeks to be chilled. The average temperature should be between 35 to 45 F. (2-7 C.). Many people chill their bulbs in the vegetable drawer in their fridge, in an unheated but attached garage, or even in shallow trenches near the foundation of their homes.

After chilling, you are ready to start growing tulips indoors. Choose a container with good drainage. Fill the container with soil to about 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm.) below the rim of the container. The next step in forcing tulip bulbs is to place them just on top of the soil, pointy end up. Fill the container with soil around the tulip bulbs to the top of the container. The very tips of the tulip bulbs should still show through the top of the soil.

After this, for forcing tulips, place the pots in a cool, dark place. A basement or unheated garage is fine. Water lightly about once a week. Once leaves appear, bring the tulip bulbs out and place them in a location where they will get bright, but indirect light.

Your forced tulips should flower in two to three weeks after being brought into the light.

Forced Tulips Indoor Care

After forcing tulips, they are cared for much like a houseplant. Water the tulips when the soil is dry to the touch. Make sure that your forced tulips remain out of direct light and drafts.

With a little preparation, you can start growing tulips in pots indoors. By forcing tulips in your home, you add a little bit of spring to your winter home.

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North Dakota State University

Growing tulip bulbs in containers is easy. You only need to give the bulbs a drink of water and a place to chill out. The flower buds are already inside the bulbs.

Growing tulips indoors is called forcing. Start by selecting the biggest bulbs you can find.

Use a pot with a broad bottom such as an azalea pot. These are less likely to tip over when the plants get tall.

Fill the pots with potting soil, setting the tips of the bulbs at the surface. Place the bulbs close together, no more than 2 inches apart.

The largest leaves of a tulip bulb emerge out of the flat side of the bulb. Plant the bulb so its flat side is against the inner rim of the pot and the leaves will cascade over the rim.

The bulbs need about 14 weeks of cool temps (40s) before they will send out sprouts. The basement refrigerator is an ideal spot, but you can grow them in an unheated garage. Water before cooling and keep the soil slightly moist but not wet.

When they start sprouting, place them near a sunny window at room temps. In a few weeks the blooms will be thrilling!

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, October 15, 2014. Updated in September 2020. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Peter Kemmer.

Tulip Forcing Tips

Forcing Tulips over the Winter
To force a Tulip means to pot the Tulip bulb, replicate winter conditions and bring into bloom earlier than its normal spring bloom time. One can force a Tulip to bloom earlier, but one cannot force a Tulip to bloom later.

The first consideration is to select Tulip varieties that are good for forcing. Not all Tulips force well. The best Tulips for forcing are found within the Species Tulips, Double Early Tulips, Single Early Tulips and Triumph Tulips. We recommend selecting just one variety per pot so that it is a fully blooming pot. We do not recommend forcing Tulip Mixtures.

Schedule your flower bulb order delivery for early to mid-October.

Once you receive your order, open and examine your flower bulbs to make sure that they are firm and healthy. If any of your bulbs have a blue-gray transportation mold, remove it with a paper towel or put the bulbs in a single layer in the sun. If any bulbs are soft, please discard them and do not prechill them with your other bulbs.

Forced flower bulbs must be potted in soil prior to prechilling. (Hyacinths bulbs may be potted in soil or suspended in water in classic hyacinth glasses prior to the prechilling process.) Select the proper sized pots with good drainage. Use a good, sterile potting soil. You want a potting medium that will support the growing flower bulb and that will hold enough moisture for proper root growth.

Place a broken pot shard in the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot to prevent soil seepage when the pot is watered.

How many bulbs per pot? As many bulbs as will fit shoulder to shoulder in the pot! We like nice, full pots of flowers! Some people prefer to snap off any little baby bulbs from the sides of the mother bulbs (if there are any) to ensure the highest flower count per pot.

Fill each pot half way up the sides with potting soil. Place the flower bulbs (root side down) in the pot. Fill the rest of the pot up with the potting soil to 1" underneath the top of the pot. Tamp down the soil lightly and add a bit more soil if necessary so that the soil level is 1" below the top of the flower pot. This is so that the water and soil won't slosh over the side when you water. Tulip bulbs are nature's perfect little suitcases filled with everything that each bulb needs to bloom perfectly. We recommend against adding any fertilizer whatsoever to the pot. Adding fertilizer can result in excessive foliage production and if added to the soil underneath the bulbs, it could also cause root burn.

Insert plant labels in each pot to identify the variety being forced as well as the date that you are putting it in to cool. Keep a record of which varieties force well for you for future years!

Place the flower pots in a dark refrigerator or cooling unit that maintains a consistent temperature between 35°F and 45°F. Never put them in the freezer! Do not prechill bulbs with apples or pears which release ethylene gas as they ripen.

You may also put the flower pots into an unheated cellar or garage as long as it stays at a consistent temperature between 35°F and 45°F. Install a minimum-maximum thermometer to monitor the temperature. Cover the pots with newspaper to keep them in the dark. Flower bulbs must have a consistent temperature range during the prechilling period in order to develop a mature root system. In fact, they hate freezing and thawing cycles and any type of temperature spiking. Temperature spiking reduces the bulb’s viability and results in immature root development. You may also sink the pots into an outdoor cold frame or into a trench and cover them with a 6" to 8" layer of salt hay or sand to over winter them. Make sure that the cold frame or trench is below the freeze line: flower bulbs do not set down roots in temperatures below 32°F.

Check the flower pots once every week or so to see if they need to be watered. If the soil is bone dry to the touch, water moderately.

Cool the pots of Tulips for 12 to 14 weeks. We recommend keeping the pot prechilled for the maximum time period so that the bulbs develop good root systems that anchor the bulb into the soil. Small shoots will also sprout through the soil: To avoid stunting sprout growth, DO NOT STACK THE POTS ON TOP OF ONE ANOTHER. Due to the lack of sunlight, the early top growth will be white to pale green-yellow in color.

At the end of the cooling period, bring the flower pots out into filtered sunlight in a relatively cool spot to permit the new sprouts to acclimate themselves to the sun and warmer temperatures. Gradually move the pots into progressively stronger yet still somewhat filtered sunlight for three to five weeks. Water as necessary.

Once the bud emerges, move the pot into direct sunlight in an area about 50°F to 65°F. Once the flower buds color up, the pots may be placed virtually anywhere for maximum viewing and enjoyment. Just remember that the cooler the ambient temperature, the longer the flowers will thrive. Once Tulip bulbs are forced, they are pretty much spent and should be discarded.

It's wonderful to have pots of Tulips blooming in the winter! It's also nice to have extra pots that you can use as a private cutting garden so you can have vases of Tulips over the winter too. Your Tulips will be larger than those available as cut flowers since you've planted size 12 cm/up bulbs from us.

If you loved forcing Tulips and want to expand your indoor garden this year, other types of flower bulbs that are good for forcing include Narcissi, Crocus, Scilla, Rock Garden Iris, Hyacinths, Muscari, Chionodoxa, Anemone blanda, Fritillaria meleagris, Fritillaria meleagris alba, Oxalis adenophylla, Puschkinia and Lilies.

Bloom Failure Reasons

Weak bulbs and improper cold treatment are the main causes of bloom failure. Force only full-size, plump and healthy tulip bulbs to bloom. If the bulbs were forced the previous year, they may not have enough nutrients stored to flower again. Store the bulbs in a sealed bag of slightly moistened peat moss during refrigerator storage so they don't dry out. Also, they can be potted prior to cold storage seal the entire pot in a bag, and then store the bulbs. Temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 32 degrees Fahrenheit during cold treatment may prevent proper blooming.

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.

Watch the video: Forcing Flower Bulbs In Water for an Indoor Mid-Winter Spring Garden