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How to force spring bulbs for Christmas

Crocus, Tulips, Iris, Amaryllis and Lily of the Valley

tulips in January
Just two days after the image below two of the tulips are already past their prime. They're beautiful and colourful but fleeting, January 7th 2010.
  tulips crocus hyacinth in bloom in January

Tulips, Crocus and Hyacinths in bloom January 5th 2011


My first tulip is in bloom today 2 January, pictured left. And then just 3 days later more are in bloom, above.

These Crocus Spring Beauty (below) are continuing to bloom although the flowers are quite short-lived.

  28 December 2010


My tulips didn't quite make it in time for Christmas but the ones in the pot below are almost ready to burst into bloom and one of the ones in a vase is not far behind. The other two in vases are much smaller but do have good root development. Still not sure what one uses to force a tulip in water as there aren't many vases about of the correct size but I'll just have to keep an eye out for more. The truffle bottle below (truffle jar ? not sure of the best term) works well and looks like a hyacinth vase only smaller.

I also wasn't sure of when to bring the tulips into the light. I know what a hyacinth looks like now when the flower is out of the bulb but wasn't confident of what a tulip looks like when it's ready. I'll have to see how the two below do.

forcing tulips for Christmas in pots and vases
  I thought these small crocus (below) were supposed to bloom earlier than the large Dutch crocus (purple and white farther below) but I only have these two in bloom so far.
crocus Spring Beauty in bloom just after Christmas
white crocus in bloom just after Christmas
  13 December 2010
  I have one beautiful purple crocus in bloom in a vase and a few others doing very well which I think will bloom by Christmas. I also have some hyacinths bursting into bloom. I never thought they'd be this early - almost too early. I want them in bloom on Christmas day!
  8 December 2010
  I never thought I'd have a crocus in bloom in December, let alone this early, but this week the first crocus flower appeared. It's rather small but the first of many I hope.
crocus in bloom
a variety of forced crocus growing in water in vases and in pots

I went a little mad with the crocus this year as the images above and below show. The image below shows another bud on one of the bulbs in the white "basket" pot. The conditions in that must be good. I will try taking some more photos as these have turned out rather dark, as the BBC weather said we were due for "white cloud" all day - and we got it!

more forced crocus growing in water in vases and in pots

All the Shorter flower troughs are up from the cellar. Some are doing better than others. The crocus bulbs in the gravel are looking good and seem to be coping with the small container. The roots of the bulbs in the two troughs with bulb fibre have pushed the bulbs right up and out of the trough. I am going to try to anchor them in with some gravel on top.

The iris in the 4th trough looks happy enough but I've never grown this variety before so still awaiting the results.

Shorter and Son flower troughs planted with early crocus

Abba Tulips

These tulips have excellent root growth. The roots are growing out of the drainage hole in the bottom and they are pushing the bulbs out of the pot. Unfortunately the bulbs have some mould but they don't seem to be suffering too much from it.

I know the look of a hyacinth when it's ready to come out of the dark but never having forced tulips before I'm not sure if these are ready or not but I decided to try bringing them into the light: good root growth and good stems which are getting too high for the fridge in the cellar.

The tulips in the vases are still in the cellar but they also have good root growth but not quite as prominent stems. I will try to brave going outside later today to take a photo of them.
  August 2010

Forcing bulbs for Christmas is the "holy grail" of bulb forcing so it's important to start early. I bought some bulbs this week (August 2010) at a garden centre. I didn't know they would be on sale yet but they were so I am excited to get started. I also wanted to expand my repetoire to include crocus and tulips. I have forced crocus in pots before but wanted to force crocus in water in a vase and establish once and for all if it works or not. I also wanted to try forcing tulips in water which is already proving challenging as only one of my hyacinth vases has a small enough opening to hold the smaller tulip bulb. This makes me wonder, is it possible to force tulips in water? Has it been done extensively? Already I can say no as I have never seen a tulip forcing vase and hyacinth vases are too big and crocus too small so what did/do people use?

As I haven't forced tulips before I wasn't sure what variety to choose so I just picked one that bloomed early (Abba), in the case of tulips that was April.


August 18, 2010

Crocus and Tulips, using unprepared bulbs


Step 1.

I bought some bulb fibre a couple weeks ago when I first saw it for sale. Last year my crocus pots were infested with some tiny bugs when I didn't use proper bulb fibre so this year I'm using the right medium. I got my crocus vases out of the cellar and my pots ready.


Step 2.

I want to make sure the bulbs have good drainage so I'm putting in a good layer of gravel.


Step 3.

After the gravel I filled the pots with bulb fibre, put the bulbs on top and watered them. I only have one vase that will hold a tulip bulb. I will try to find more.


Step 4.

I top-dressed the pots with more gravel and one with more aesthetic bits of broken pottery I picked up on the Thames bank. I've seen this in magazines and web sites.


Step 5.

I fell in love with these Shorter and Son flower troughs (above and below) on ebay and bought a few in the past year with plans to force miniature daffodils in them but the smallest bulbs I could find, that would fit in them, are crocus. I planted some with bulb fibre and some with gravel to see which would do best. I also planted one up with some iris tuberosa as the tubers were also small enough to fit. I have no idea if that variety is forceable but I am having a go! They're in the fridge with the rest.


Step 6.

I improvised a few other containers for the crocus and tulips, some with gravel and some with water, including a bottle and another vase which appear to be the right sizes for tulip bulbs.

I put all the pots and vases into the spare fridge in the cellar, above and below. I have read varying recommendations for the length of time for the cool dark period, from 10 to 17 weeks. It's 15 weeks until December 1st which is probably the latest date to bring bulbs into the light if they are to bloom for Christmas so I'm hoping that 15 weeks will be sufficient. I also put in some of the unplanted bulbs which I will plant in 6 weeks, then I can compare to see which bulbs perform better.

I put some of my hyacinths in the fridge last year but found it did not improve their performance at all so I am not doing that this year.


These Narcissus Avalanche were an impulse buy at the garden centre I could not resist. They are huge and were only 57p each. Definitely value for money. They don't take long from start to finish so I am going to add pebbles and water to this dish about 6 weeks before Christmas.

I decided not to do amaryllis this year. At £8.95 or more per bulb I don't think they are value for money, although I love them. I have 5 amaryllis vases but the bulbs to fill them would be almost £50, half of what I spent on masses of hyacinths, crocus and Tete-a-tete daffodils at Bloms so unless I see some on sale at an irresistable price I won't buy any.

Amaryllis, Crocus, Lily of the Valley, Narcissus 2009/2010
  In the middle of January, with snow visible in the back garden, I am so delighted to have 5 different varieties of bulbs in bloom indoors: lily of the valley, crocus, amaryllis, hyacinth and narcissus. It's the last of the paperwhites and the first of the crocus. I truly have a "garden within doores".


Lily of the Valley

It is my dream to have a drift of these in my back garden. For a few years I bought them for Christmas indoors and then planted them outside but I haven't seen a flower outside from them for years. That company stopped selling them but Bloms had them in their catalogue so I ordered some. I think they are quite pricey at £18.50 for 10. At least they are growing well now. Didn't quite have them in time for Christmas but almost.

  The crocus vases (above and in the centre of the windowsill below) are often misnamed "hyacinth vases", especially on ebay, but it can easily be seen, in comparison with the hyacinth vases, that they are completely different and would be woefully inadequate to hold a hyacinth bulb at only 10 cm tall and with a very small cup.

  The crocus in the bowl and pot (far right above) are doing well although not in bloom yet (2 days after Christmas).
  You don't need to use hyacinth vases to force bulbs: pots with soil, pots or other containers with pebbles and water and other vases that will hold a bulb are all options to use to force bulbs indoors. The paperwhite narcissus, above right, are consistent good performers - almost too good. You need to hold off planting them until 6 weeks or so before you want them in bloom or, like amaryllis (below), you'll have them in bloom well before Christmas.
last updated 7 January 2011