How to force bulbs

Bring the subtle colours of February and March forward into the New Year by planting bulbs indoors in autumn, creating your very own early spring

30th August 2018

Don't wait for March to enjoy a sumptuous display of spring flowers, plant now and brighten up your New Year with your very own wintertime garden. 

Here's how to force bulbs:

You will need

  • Spring bulbs from garden centre – crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, miniature iris, grape hyacinth and Siberian squill/scilla all work well
  • Containers – anything from enamel bowls to jam jars or small galvanised buckets will do
  • All-purpose compost or bulb fibre
  • Pea gravel or pieces of broken clay flower pot
  • Black bin bag/old fabric


1. Pick containers 
Plant pots
©Emma Mitchell

Choose the containers you will use for forcing your bulbs. Jam jars, old clay plant pots and simple white enamel bowls work well. To prevent water from pooling in containers without drainage holes, place a handful of pea gravel or some broken pieces of clay pot at the bottom.

2. Add compost
Plant pots and bulbs
©Emma Mitchell

Put a layer of compost in the bottom of your container (over the gravel if you are using it) and place your bulbs on top of this layer. Try not to allow them to touch each other as this might cause them to rot. Cover the bulbs with more compost so that just the tips of them protrude above the surface. Add labels and water them until the soil becomes moist but not sodden.

3. Leave to grow
Plant pots in shed
©Emma Mitchell

Place your containers of bulbs in a cold but dry place such as a shed, the corner of a garage or a cupboard. Cut out the light by covering the pots with a black bin bag or 2–3 layers of old fabric. 

4. Let spring bloom
©Emma Mitchell

Check your bulbs every two weeks or so. If the compost/bulb fibre becomes dry, then water it a little. Most bulbs will require 8–10 weeks in their cool, dark spots – others, such as paperwhite narcissi, will grow faster and may only need 5–7 weeks. Once the shoots are 3–5cm tall, move the containers to a cool, light windowsill, then sit back and enjoy your own tiny version of spring in the midst of winter.

Main image ©Getty

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