On a Cold Winter’s Night: Indoor Bulbs

Ilona Erwin

A Garden In Winter

It is so hard for a gardener to lock up the growing season for winter, even when the platoons of garden catalogs begin marching in from the mailbox. Although houseplants offer a bit of green, it is the indoor flower displays from forced bulbs which create the effect of springtime on the windowsill. Such displays hold the promise of more to come, as though a bit of earth was plucked from the future.

My first introduction to these flowering delights began when my Aunt, with whom I was staying, brought a bowl filled with smooth white stones and dotted with narcissus bulbs for me to place in my bedroom window. She had a way of living life that celebrated in daily ways such as this, and that made her a very charming person. With a little regular water, her gift of bulbs shot up and flowered into delicate, scented paperwhites. I had not yet begun to garden, but I was forever in the grasp of the demure sight of winter blooming bulbs from that point on. A bit of spring on the windowsill had completely captured my imagination that winter, so many years ago.

In later years I would experience growing indoor bulbs with the bold burst of amaryllis blooms, quaint scenes of combined spring bulb gardens-in-a pot, and dark winter nights would never be the same. A winter bulb garden, indoors, can give a completely hopeful view, a reminder that verdant spring will come, on long winter months with the brief daylight hours and little sunshine. Besides, – like fruits of summer on a Valentine dessert – there is something special and exotic about the forced blooms that deck interior rooms while the bluster of winter blows just outside the curtained pane.

forced flower bulbs

Some of the best plants to force for winter bloom:



One of the Christmas season favorites are the Amaryllis which send up a trumpet of bloom from a tall stalk. A good-sized bulb (most bulbs measuring more than 8 inches around) planted in a container is sure to give a great show. Amaryllis flowers come in a number of red to pink colors, white, and striped or double forms. Bulbs are available in garden centers and nurseries and online; kits are widely available from many outlets.

This is one of those bulbs which can be saved from year to year, if properly stored and replanted. Eventually producing offset bulbs that can help create quite a winter show.

Easy-to-order kits from Amazon:

How To Grow: If you order a kit, nothing could be simpler. Just follow the directions on setting the bulb within the moistened growing medium in the pot. set in a sunny spot and let it grow. If you are potting up your own, use a premixed potting compost (soiless mix). Let the bulb sit for a day on a water-filled jar where just the bottom of the bulb barely touches the water. Plant with the top part of the bulb above the soil line. White Flower Farm has thorough instructions. They like a warm sunny location, 65-75° F.

Amaryllis may also be planted in water and pebbles, as with the Paperwhites.

If you wish to replant the following year, leave the foliage and remove the flower stem, be sure to pot in nutritious potting soil, set in a sunny window and keep it watered when dry (allow top of soil to dry out briefly). Come spring, you can pop it into the garden to grow and gain strength for the coming year. an out of the way place in the vegetable garden is perfect. At the time you lift dahlias in the fall, lift the Amaryllis, cut off foliage, and set in a dark place for 8-10 weeks; after which you repeat the forcing process.

You can also choose to simply buy new bulbs each year.
North Carolina Cooperative provides an excellent sheet of instructions for growing Amaryllis blooms, here.


Narcissus tazetta

Here is the very simplest way to pot up your paperwhite bulbs. Again, White Flower Farm provides the most detailed directions for your paperwhite pots.

  1. choose a watertight container or pot with saucer
  2. put layer of pebbles or river rocks 2 to 4 inches deep
  3. place the bulbs in with some stone, but leaving upper part of bulb exposed
  4. pour water to the level of the root at base of bulbs
  5. place somewhere cool and after rooted well, in a sunny spot
  6. enjoy

When grown this way you can’t expect a repeat show, so toss away the spent bulbs; just think of them as a very long lasting floral arrangement. They do not survive our cold climate winters here in Ohio, either. I have tried the variety ‘Ziva’ and was very pleased with them. Try giving them a nip of alcohol to keep them from flopping over.

Dutch Bulb Gardens

Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths

bulbsThe easiest alternative is to buy bulbs already prepared for you, since Dutch bulbs usually require a time of cold storage before they will bloom.

Certain varieties, especially of tulips, will be better to force for indoor bloom than others. Old list often included the single early types for forcing. the University of Missouri has an excellent page on recommended varieties and procedures for creating your own indoor Dutch Garden. some varieties may be hard to find, nowadays.

Forcing Indoor Bulbs


: Bellona -pure yellow, Couleur Cardinal -dark red, Gudoshnik- orange streaked yellow, Kansas -white.


: Anne Marie -pink, L’Innocence -white, Delft Blue.

Crocus: Use any of the “Dutch” varieties, rather than the snow crocus, for the best results.

How To Force Winter Bulbs

Videos to illustrate all the how-to involved in forcing your bulbs.

Martha Stewart’s instructions for forcing winter bulbs.

A pan of bulbs….

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.