Bulbs in the Home

Spring Bulbs are not just for the garden. Many types can be successfully grown indoors to add vibrancy, rich colour, and sweet perfume during the dark months of winter. Easy to grow and inexpensive, indoor bulbs make the perfect home flower display.

The way to induce bulbs to bloom early is to trick them into thinking that they’ve already been through winter by imposing a regime of cold and darkness after potting them up, before moving them to their final flowering positions in the home.

By following the simple techniques below, you will be able to enjoy beautiful spring blooms in your home long before they bloom in the garden.

I can give you 5 good reasons.

I can give you 5 good reasons.

  1. A) It’s a fun and creative way to make unique gifts for friends and family. Add your personal touch (that cannot be bought) by matching bulbs and containers to the tastes of the recipients.
  2. B) For the pleasure of seeing the first pale snouts of spring bulbs peeking out, that feeds you the intoxicating nectar of having power over nature.
  3. C) Indoor gardening is an enjoyable and educational activity you can share with children.
  4. D) It is an easy way to get into growing things for beginning gardeners. And an ideal activity for people lacking outside space.
  5. E) The choices of varieties and colours you can buy as bulbs are greater than the ones you can buy in pots in flower. For me, there is nothing so dramatic as a bowl bursting with my favourite Beetroot-purple ‘Woodstock’ hyacinths.

Why not start a new family tradition and grow bulbs for your centre piece on Christmas Day? By planting up bowl every fortnight from early September to mid-October you can be certain of fragrant blooms throughout Christmas and into the New Year.

10 Simple steps to force garden bulbs into early flowering:

1) Choose your bulbs. The most reliable, and spectacular, subject for indoor cultivation is the hyacinth. Buy large, firm bulbs.

Hyacinth colours:

If its pinks that you like, look for light pink ‘Fondant’, raspberry coloured ‘Jan Bos’ or pink/purple ‘Woodstock’

‘Blue Star’ and ‘Atlantic’ give you light and dark shades of blue respectively. Rembrandt is a blue hyacinth noted for it ‘best of best’ fragrance.

‘White Pearl’ is as good as its name.

For yellow try ‘City of Haarlem’, and ‘Odysseus’ for apricot tones.

2) Select an appropriate container. You can plant indoor bulbs in either a pot or bowl with drainage holes or a container without drainage. I prefer containers with drainage holes because it makes it easier to avoid the danger of over watering. Containers with drainage are necessary if you want to do the forcing in the garden.

3) Use fresh bulb compost to fill your containers. Place a moistened layer of compost in the bottom of your chosen pot. The bulbs are arranged on this layer.

Container grown bulbs can be spaced much more closely together than normal. The trick is to plant them closely, but not so close that they touch each other. The bulbs should not touch the sides of the container.

Bulbs are generally considered more aesthetically pleasing when planted in in odd numbers, i.e. 3,5,7 etc.  a 15 cm pot will hold 3 plump hyacinth bulbs

4) The container can now be filled up with compost, which should be gently firmed. The finished pot should have the noses of the bulbs standing proud of the compost. Don’t fill the container up to the rim, leave it about 2cm clear.

The surface of the bowl can be covered with a dressing of horticultural grit. This is both decorative and practical, stopping the compost from splattering the bulbs during watering. A covering of sphagnum moss adds a rustic feel to an arrangement as an alternative dressing.

5) Water carefully if necessary. The compost should be moist but never soaking wet.

6) Now comes the magic trick! We need to fool the bulb into thinking it’s gone through winter and then that it is time to awake.

This is achieved by giving them an enforced period of cold and darkness. The ideal temperature needs to be above freezing, and around 4⁰C. The pots need to be kept cool and in the dark for around 8 to 10 weeks to initiate flowering.

This is done by placing pots into a black plastic bag with a few small air holes, and putting them in an unheated cellar, garage, or shed. You can also do this by placing pots in a cool, dark cupboard. You will need to check up on them weekly to make sure the compost is still moist.

7) An alternative and traditional method of achieving this period of coolness and dark is to dig a shallow trench in the garden and place your pots into this – covering the containers with a 10cm layer of sand or straw. If you try this method, it is essential to use containers with drainage holes.

8) Once you notice that pale shoots have started emerging, and are about 5cm tall, you can bring the bulbs indoors to a cool room. The shoots will quickly turn green. Once this happens you can move containers closer to the window.

9) Turning the bowl around now and again will ensure that the developing bulbs grow evenly.

10) The flowers should start to open-up a week after being brought out of the dark. Sit back and enjoy your early flowering bulbs!

What other bulbs can I do this with?

If you want to experiment with other spring bulbs, then crocuses and narcissi are very popular subjects for forcing.

The narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ (£6.99 for 8) is valued for indoor growing thanks to its musky jasmine like scent and snowy white flowers. It is a more tender form of narcissus and ideal for growing indoors. Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil D’Or’ (5 for £2.99) is another excellent choice for indoor forcing.

If you prefer shorter flower stems, then the small yellow Narcissi ‘Tete a Tete’ is the variety for you.

If you want to try something new, go for Narcissi ‘Lothario’, daffodil of the year 2020 – with its orange cup set amidst yellow petals.

For those feeling adventurous, why not have a go with our packs of single field grown snowdrops? What could be more beautiful on the table than a bowl bursting with these delicate jewels?

I can’t wait that long

Are you a bit impatient? We have a hack!

Look for prepared bulbs. These will be clearly labelled on the information card. These are bulbs that have been specially prepared for early flowering. You plant them in the same way as above, but a prepared bulb will flower after six weeks rather than taking the 10 weeks of unprepared ones.

Want to give it a try but need it compact and easy? Look out for our hedgehog-shaped novelty ceramic planters. These kits contain everything you will need to produce a colourful display of Narcissi Rip Van Winkle.

Top Tips

Don’t mix different colours and varieties in the same bowl. They are unlikely to all flower at the same time, and the results will usually disappoint.

If it’s your first time growing indoor bulbs try hyacinths or paperwhite narcissi, they are much easier to do.

Bulbs in vases and glasses

It is possible to grow hyacinths in special vases or glasses. You must use prepared bulbs with this technique. Just follow these 5 simple steps:

1) Fill the vase with clean water to within 2mm from the base of the bulb – the bulb must never touch the water.

2) Put the vase in a cool dark place.

3) Check the water level weekly, top up when necessary.

4) Wait for 6 to 8 weeks until the long white roots have reached the bottom of the vessel and the pale bud is more than 7cm high.

5) Bring the vase out into the light. It should open into flower after a week.

Bulbs in gravel and water.

For this you can use any watertight container, such as clean old glass jars, cache pots, and charity shop finds – be inventive! Clear glass containers are preferable for the beginner, as it makes it easy to check water levels.

Make sure the gravel you use is washed and dirt free.

  1. A) Half fill your container with gravel
  2. B) Place the bulbs on top of the gravel
  3. C) Add more gravel to the container until the bulbs are about ¾ buried – so that the bulbs don’t wobble.
  4. D) Add enough water up to the level of the bases of the bulbs. The bulbs must not be sitting in water or they will rot.
  5. E) Check the water level weekly, top up when necessary.
  6. F) Wait for 6 to 8 weeks until the newly emerged pale bulb shoots are more than 7cm high.
  7. G) Bring the container out into the light. Bulbs should open into flower after a week.

What to do with the bulbs after they have flowered?

After forced bulbs have finished, they are generally not kept because they have not had ideal conditions to build up the bulb for flowering next year. If you want to try and keep the bulbs, then cut-off the flower heads as soon as the flowers have faded. Then place the containers in a cool, bright place and allow them to continue to grow. Later you can plant them out in the garden in an out of the way area.

Additional Information

Growing bulbs outdoors: 

If this article has inspired you to think bulbs, and you now want to know about growing bulbs in the garden to compliment your indoor selection have a look at some of our useful blogs:

By Ali Barwani – Capital Gardens



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