Why wait until springtime to enjoy the traditional blooms of the season? Tulips, crocuses, hyacinths and other spring bulbs can be forced into bloom long before the snow stops flying. Plan ahead at least three months in advance, and you’ll have flowers to brighten an otherwise gray and dreary time of year.
While most spring-flowering bulbs can be forced into bloom out of season, some are easier than others. Catalogs and nurseries will indicate which varieties are best, but the most common are amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus, tulips, hyacinths and crocuses. You can purchase convenient kits that contain all you need to grow these flowers, though it’s cheaper to put it all together yourself.
Since your bulb display will be temporary, almost any container will do as long as it’s large enough. Choose containers that have drainage holes, and are sturdy and stable, and be creative—you don’t need to restrict your choice to traditional clay or plastic pots. Paperwhites can even be grown in a shallow container of water with a layer of pebbles or glass beads on the bottom to hold the bulbs in place.
Use a potting soil that contains less than one-third peat moss, because bulbs prefer soil that drains well and doesn’t remain soggy. "Soil-less" mixes also can be used. Fill the container halfway with potting soil. Plant your bulbs close together; forced bulbs don’t need much space to grow. Add soil around the bulbs, leaving the tips uncovered, then water thoroughly.
The tricky part is the period of chilling that most bulbs require before they bloom, and that’s why you must plan at least three months ahead. After your bulbs are planted, you can provide this cold period in an unheated garage or cellar or in your refrigerator. Just make sure the soil stays moist while you’re waiting. Depending on the variety, spring bulbs may require up to 15 weeks of cold "weather." If you get a late start, try growing amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus, which don’t need chilling.
When you’re ready to grow the bulbs, bring them into a location that’s fairly cool and water thoroughly. When they begin actively growing, place them in bright indirect light. It usually takes two or three weeks for bulbs to bloom. The flowers will last longer if kept in a cool location.
After the bulbs are finished blooming, they’re finished. It’s possible to plant and grow them in the garden, but they’ll never do as well as bulbs that were chosen and planted for outdoor use. Consider them a temporary display, and enjoy them while they last.