You don't have to wait for nature to hurry up in your garden outside in order to bring pretty blossoms into your home. Our tip? Force the blooms instead. This age-old gardening how-to tricks the flowers into thinking it's time to bloom using water. By forcing your blooms, bulbs like tulips and hyacinth will begin to blossom ahead of schedule, and you'll have gorgeous color for your windowsills. So how do we force blooms? The first thing you'll need to do is search your local garden center for inexpensive forced bulbs. As we mentioned, bulbs like tulips, hyacinth, crocus, and daffodils are great options to force.
Use a mixture of potting soil, sand, and peat moss. Make sure the container has good drainage. Arrange bulbs close together with their tips sticking out of the soil. Make sure that the soil underneath is loose to encourage roots to grow quickly. Water the soil before placing the container to chill. Keep soil damp but not wet.
Place a layer of gravel in a container, arrange the bulbs as you’d like, and then fill with water so the bottoms of the bulbs just graze the water’s surface.
We like to force hyacinths in special bulbforcing vases. These can be found in florist shops or in antiques stores. Simply put the bulb in the top part of the glass, and add enough water so the bottom of the bulb is just touching it.
Tip: Wear gloves when handling hyacinth bulbs, which can cause skin irritation.
Let Them Chill
Most bulbs need several weeks of cold weather to prepare to bloom. Some, though, such as paperwhites and amaryllis, don’t need to chill at all. The amount of chill time for bulbs ranges from 8 to 16 weeks, so check the label when buying your bulbs to see the appropriate chill time for that selection, or buy the bulbs prechilled. For chilling, bulbs should be kept between 35 and 45 degrees. You can leave them in a dark, cool (but not below freezing) place like a garage, basement, or shed—or you can simulate winter’s chill by storing bulbs in the refrigerator.
Note: Don’t store them with fresh produce, because the ethylene gas from fruits and vegetables can keep bulbs from blooming.
Watch Them Grow
Regardless of what container you choose for chilling, the next step is to wait and let your bulbs root. Most bulbs should have blooms two to four weeks after chilling if you follow these steps: When shoots appear, take the container to a slightly warmer—but still cool—place (about 60 degrees), and give it indirect light until leaves are about 3 to 5 inches tall and flowerbuds appear. Then move the container to a warm, sunny spot (about 70 degrees). When the flowers open up, place them out of direct sunlight. This will encourage the blooms to last longer.
Forcing Bulbs to Bloom
You can also force branches to flower just before the season, but the closer to the actual bloom time, the easier the branches will be to force. Keep in mind that shrubs are actually easier to force than trees. When you go to cut the branches, be sure to cut the stem at an angle, and choose the right pruners for the job. A nice, clean cut makes a big difference. And, if you have the option, cut branches whose blooms have already begun to swell for the prettiest blossoms. Cut a slit at the end of each stem to increase the branch's water intake. Immediately place the cut branches in water, and then cut them at an angle again once inside.