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Forcing Bulbs

What are “forced” flowers?

“Forced” flower bulbs are the flowers we see in pots in houses during Thanksgiving and Christmas, or at the floral section at the grocery store during certain holidays (pots of tulips for spring, lilies for Easter, etc.) They are a favorite of magazine photo shoots, because they are “forced” to bloom in pots at certain times, so they can stage beautiful flowers in an indoor setting.  In the fall, we plant paperwhites in pots for the holiday season. Plant now for holiday blooms!

A few years ago, I went to an estate sale of an orchid lover. In the middle of the house was a large room devoted as a solarium for growing nothing but orchids in these amazing terra cotta orchid pots. I bought every pot I could!  But, you can use almost any pot you can imagine!  These make the perfect cute gift for teachers, co-workers, or for yourself as a flower to brighten up a small corner of your life during the winter.

In warmer climates, they are also great seasonal landscape plants. We lost a large oak tree in our back garden. The tree was over 100 years old, but a very long and hard freeze killed it.  Now, we have a full sun spot, and as we decide what to do with this location, we have filled it with paperwhites, mixed with alysum and other annuals. This gives us color and excitement throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas!


Paperwhites are the easiest flowers to force bloom, but forcing can be done with tulips, hyacinths, and just about any flower bulb if you treat them correctly. Read below to learn how to grow paperwhites indoors and what to do with paperwhites after they bloom:

Some highlights:

1)      Paperwhites are made to flower by planting them! Sounds silly, but in this busy world folks are intimidated by flowers. The first step is the easiest…plant them! Just make sure they have full sun or as much winter sun as a window in your apartment or house can offer.

2)      Water them regularly, but they won’t need a lot of water until their roots begin to really grow (weeks 3 and following). Just feel around in the soil and make sure it is moist. Once a day is plenty, and make sure they are not in standing water. In other words, you will have a plate or some “catch pan” for excess water coming out of the bottom of your pot…drain this out if there is too much standing water that won’t be absorbed by the soil and bulb that day.

3)      How long does it take a paperwhite to bloom? Paperwhites bloom generally 6-8 weeks after they are planted. By keeping them in a sunny spot, the foliage will stay nice and compact – if they are in too much shade, the foliage and bloom stalk will reach for the sun (called etiolation). You want compact foliage for a maximum bloom impact. Our trick to make paperwhite blooms look great, is to grow them by a window, and when the buds appear 4-5 weeks later, move them around the house as table centerpieces or accent pieces for holiday gatherings.

4)      How do I care for paperwhites? Plant paperwhites, water paperwhites, and give them as much sun as possible. After this, paperwhites require very little care. Just watch them. For example, are they growing too much in one direction towards the sun? Then rotate the pot around. Are there some weeds in the soil? Pull the weeds before they are big. However, once you plant paperwhites, they will bloom quite easily even if you don’t give them much care or forget about them for a week at a time.

5)      What do I do with paperwhites after they bloom? After paperwhites bloom, you may leave them for a while in their ornamental pots because they still bring decorative flare to your household. After the paperwhite blooms are spent and you are ready to move them, you may plant them in your garden or throw them away and save the pot for next year. If you want to get a repeat bloom from your paperwhites for next year, you may let the foliage die down naturally, and when the foliage is yellow and brown, remove the foliage around May and store the bulbs in a cool, dry, dark place for next year. If you live in a warmer climate, you may plant your paperwhites outdoors. However, paperwhites are best treated as annuals to be used once. If you want perennial garden flowers closely related to paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceous), try other Narcissus tazetta selections such as Grand Primo, Italicus, Falconet, Golden Dawn, and Erlicheer. These also want full sun but can be planted in your gardens USDA Zone 8 and warmer as perennials that will last a lifetime after one planting.

6)      I want to use my own pot for forcing paperwhites – Great! Go wild with pot selections and have fun. Do paperwhite bulb pots require drainage? As long as you don't water paperwhites too much, using pots without drainage should be fine. "Forcing Bulbs" is a one and done prospect, so we're just "aiding" the bulb in its bloom over the 6-8 week period. In other words, just don't water it to where there is standing water and you should be fine.

7)      How do I plant them outdoors?   You will plant them with 2-3 inches of soil above the top of the bulb. Plant them close together to have a full, natural look. Often with warmer temperatures they will bloom in 4 weeks. Water them regularly outdoors.