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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Force Bulbs Indoors for Seasonal Display

This is the time of year when various types of gift plant kits become available. The ones that I see most are herb kits and flower bulbs. Bulbs such as amaryllis and paperwhites are commonly found for forcing indoors.

These bulbs are easy to grown indoors for seasonal display and beauty. The boxed bulb kit includes a pre-cooled bulb that is all ready to bloom indoors. Simply pot up and water thoroughly to get it started.

You can also start your own indoor bulb garden. Almost any bulb will work. Plant the bulbs in pots or bowls, using an indoor soil mix. Place the bulb tips at or slightly above the soil surface and water thoroughly.

Most bulbs then require a cold treatment that mimics overwintering in the ground outdoor. The potted bulbs are put into a refrigerator or cool garage to maintain a temperature of 35 to 400 F. Most bulbs require an eight to ten weeks chilling treatment in order to initiate blooming. In general, the larger the bulb, the longer they need to chill.

Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs are an exception because they do not require any chilling period in order for them to bloom. This is why they are often sold in kits to force inside.

When the bulb is ready to grow, keep it in a warm, bright location. Do not fertilize. Continue to water as needed. After flowering, either throw away or you can try to keep it for reblooming. Unfortunately, precooled bulbs from kits are often hard to get to rebloom.

Amaryllis are lily-like flowers that make excellent garden and potted plants. They are available in a wide range of flower colors including red, white, pink, orange, salmon or bicolored and typically have two to six flowers per stalk.

Paperwhite narcissus produce clusters of small white, yellow or orange flowers on 12- to 18-inch-tall stems. If you try the paperwhite, I must warn you to be prepared. Paperwhites have a very distinctive musky smell that most people do not find pleasant. It doesn't bother everyone, but some people really don't like the odor. Still it is a beautiful flower and worth trying.

University of Illinois Extension has more information on forcing bulbs at Click the Indoor Bulbs link for specifics on forcing bulbs indoors, including a YouTube video all about amaryllis.

Forcing flower bulbs indoors is an excellent way to brighten the cold, gray days of winter. This Thanksgiving, thank your meal host with a bulb kit that will keep your gratitude blooming well after the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving!

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