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bulb forcing basics

by dig the dirt editor

Why wait for spring to enjoy sweet-scented hyacinths? With a little planning, you can bring their beautiful touch of cheer indoors this winter and brighten the dreariest of days.






Forcing hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs is easy. It's a matter of mimicking nature and fooling the bulbs into behaving as if they've survived their usual (necessary) winter chill and are ready to spring forth into bloom.

Time frame

  • 30 minutes for planting
  • 12 weeks for chilling
  • 4 to 5 weeks for growing and blooming


  • terra cotta oval pot (16x5x8)
  • 6 hyacinth bulbs
  • potting soil
  • green moss (1 package)

Kid-friendly project: Yes! This makes an excellent classroom project. Just have each child plant one bulb in a 4-inch pot.

STEP 1:  Plan ahead.

  • Start the project in autumn, about 16 weeks before anticipated bloom time.
  • Plant bulbs in containers at least 4 inches deep. Fill pot half-full of potting mix. Place bulbs on soil with their pointy side up and spaced at least ½ inch apart. Cover bulbs with soil, leaving ¾-inch of their points above soil.
  • Water soil thoroughly. Cover pot loosely with a plastic bag to help preserve soil moisture.

STEP 2: Do the big chill.

  • Set potted bulbs in a dark, cool place -- 35 to 50 degrees F. is ideal - do not allow bulbs to freeze.
  • Depending on where you live, store pots in an unheated garage, cold frame, root cellar, or refrigerator.
  • Check bulbs every few weeks; keep soil moist but not wet. If mold develops, remove plastic bag. Bulbs will develop roots and begin to sprout.

STEP 3: Imitate spring.

  • Bring your potted bulbs out of cold storage and into a warm room (60 to 65 degrees F.).
  • Tuck a layer of green moss around the bulbs, covering the soil, to make a more decorative display and help preserve soil moisture.
  • Set bulbs out of sunlight for several weeks, allowing sprouts to develop into leaves. Water lightly.
  • When flower buds form, move the pot into a sunny spot and enjoy the beauty and fragrance that unfolds over the next couple of weeks.

STEP 4: Recycle.

  • You cannot force the same bulbs twice, but you can transplant forced hyacinth bulbs to the garden and enjoy them again next year.
  • After the forced bulbs finish blooming, cut spent flowers and allow foliage to wither naturally.
  • When spring arrives, gently uproot the bulbs, and replant them 6 to 7 inches deep in the garden. Sprinkle with fertilizer and water.


This method of forcing bulbs entails tucking them into a pot of soil, chilling it for several months, then bringing the pot into a warm room and watching the bulbs slowly develop tender sprouts. Within a few weeks, green leaves emerge; blooms arise and open slowly. A pot of forced bulbs makes an ideal gift for a bedridden or housebound friend who will witness the bulbs' daily progress.

If you chill several pots of bulbs and bring them into a warm room one week at a time, you can stretch their flowering season through the winter. Try planting different colors of hyacinths in each pot, from white and pink to lavender, purple, and blue.


forcing bulbs, hyacinth