Updated: Nov 12
This blog was originally posted in 2020 but I wanted to revisit this because, my friends- it's that time of year again to force bulbs if you want beautiful blooms at Christmas. I had so much fun that year with my mom and aunt- especially because it was in the middle of Covid and we had some much needed basic human interaction while getting our hands dirty! Also, don't miss my week to week pictures below of all of the bulbs actual progress. There is always something so gratifying in growing something on your own and watching it come to fruition. So read on if you want some tips and tricks to have beautiful blooms just in time for Christmas- either for yourself or to give as gifts. Many of my friends whom I've given these to over the years have planted the bulbs and they continue to produce flowers year after year.
Want to give something a little different this Christmas? A couple of years ago I decided to try my hand at 'forcing' bulbs and I have to say it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be and was also a pretty big hit. One year I grew Picotee Amaryllis (in pic above) and their blooms were pretty large- 6-7" across and I loved the sweet red lined petals with lime green centers- perfect colors for Christmas!
Believe it or not, if you want to have some beautiful, amazing bulbs blooming around the Holiday Season- whether for your own home or someone else- the time to start is right now.
If you decide to do it, just make sure you buy the correct bulbs. Bulbs meant to be forced to bloom outside of their regular timing have been handled differently than ones that are meant to go into the ground. If you find ones in bulk at your garden store around the holidays- which most commonly are paperwhites- those are prepped for forcing. When in doubt, ask. Once you have the ones that are prepped, all you need to do add a growing medium (potting soil, pebbles etc), water, sun and a little bit of time then you can get some pretty magnificent looking flowers.
What you'll need:
The biggest mistake people make is getting a container that is too lightweight. Plastic containers in general have a difficult time carrying the weight of the bulbs once they bloom- especially if it's an amaryllis. Additionally thin, small in diameter, cylindrical type containers usually have a hard time accommodating the weight once the bulb blooms.
In my experience, amaryllis blooms best in soil- but it really only needs to be about 1/3 of the way covered in soil. If doing paperwhites, you can do soil, but rock or glass pebbles also work just as well.
Which to choose? Amaryllis and paperwhites are most traditional to force for the holidays. Your local garden store will usually have some- but I have found that ordering online yields the most choices and better quality, especially with amaryllis. Ziva is the most common paperwhite that you can find anywhere that sells bulbs including home depot type stores. If you want something different, then looking online is a better bet. If you are able to pick your bulbs out in person, look for healthy, firm bulbs. Be warned: they are fairly ugly, but don't confuse that with unhealthy. Sometimes I find soft spots or some mildew growth on the base. Avoid those. The bulbs will have several layers of 'paper' type skin similar to an onion. Before planting, gently remove any loose skin (no need to remove it all or pull at it). I will link to sources at the end, but I have also seen grow kits as well at Target and several other stores the last few years around the holidays.
Sun & Water
This is my favorite part. I look forward to watching them transform a little each day from these rather ugly looking ball-masses of brown, black, dried- out fingery roots to a thing of exquisite beauty. In general it takes a few days to a week for them to show their first little green spike. Other times I've had ones that I've nearly given up on then after 2-3 weeks it will suddenly start growing. But once it starts- lookout, there is little stopping it. I usually set up a table in a sunny window where I know the bulbs will get enough sunlight. This makes it easy both for watering and checking their progress because they are all in one location and I can check how they are doing in one glance. There is certainly no need to set up a separate area for your bulbs if you have a counter by a window that receives a few good hours of indirect sunlight (they say indirect, but I've put them in places with more direct light and they have still done well) You'll notice by how much they're growing. When I do enough bulbs and have rows 2 deep in a window- I have to periodically rotate them because the ones in the row furthest from the window won't grow as fast. Watering only has to be done maybe 1/week- overwatering can rot the bulbs. Essentially you want the water to be touching the bottom of the bulb (if it's in rocks) but once the roots grow, only the roots need to have water. If the bulb is in the dirt, it grabs moisture from the dirt- and again, it should be lightly damp but not overly wet. The other thing you will quickly notice is the bulbs grow towards the light. Rotating them every so often will help them grow more upright. This isn't a big deal; you'll notice no matter how long it's been facing one way, once you rotate it, it takes less than 24 hours to reach its way toward the light.
Other items to add to the overall presentation may be moss or rocks that cover the bulb. In the case of the picture above- the bulb is surrounded with what looks to be like cranberries. Very pretty, but my guess is the bulb is in a separate container within it and they added the cranberries at the last minute. You certainly don't need it, but if you do use something like that, I recommend adding the berries just prior to giving it away or using for display, as those items tend to get in the way when you're watering the bulb and can rot.
Additionally, if you are forcing a few bulbs in the same container, especially paperwhites- using twine or ribbon tied around the stalks once they get tall helps keep them upright.
This year, I was excited to have my mom and aunt to help plant. I wanted them to be able to bring theirs home in case we couldn't see each other over the holidays. Besides, this way they could pick which bulb they got this year which made it fun and a little different than other years. I mean, we have to make the most of this unusual year- right?!?
We planted the 3 types of Amaryllis below (plus paperwhites)- wish us luck! I will post pics when ours bloom, right now they aren't all that exciting as you can see above.
Here are a few ideas for bulb containers & bulbs:
Amaryllis come it many colors, sizes and varieties. Scroll through to see a few examples:
To order bulbs- I have used a few different companies. Word to the wise- you get what you pay for. One year, I bought some directly from a store because by the time I went to order them, it was too late. To be honest, I don't remember what store it was, but I know it was a big box type. They weren't as expensive as my local nursery or online and the amount of bulbs that bloomed were probably 20% less than the better quality ones plus I didn't feel the blooms were comparable. What a disappointment! I have had great luck with Easy to Grow Bulbs & White Flower Farm & Gardener's Supply Company Be aware that some of the more popular bulbs sell out fast- usually with the amaryllis. I can't remember ever having a problem with paperwhites.
So here's to trying something new this year! Why not?
Have you had luck forcing any particular bulbs? What's your favorite? Use the comment section to let us know!
Update: follow the progress of my bulbs each week!
Here are my 'babies' growth progress. It's so fun to see how these bulbs change from week to week. You can see that once they start- there is no stopping them. The 2 pots in the back left are amaryllis and for whatever reason they are taking forever, but they are just starting to barely stick their first shoots out and I'm thinking the growth in week four will be a big difference- we shall see! I'm looking forward to dressing them in their final attire for Christmas giving- a beautiful Christmas bow.
After week 4, the bulbs have grown enough to give as gifts and bring out to wherever it is I want to put them in the house:
And finally, my little ones are ready for gifting- not so bad for a 5 week process!