Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays in 5 Easy Steps

There are six weeks and two days left until Christmas. Not that we’re counting. But, that is the amount of time needed to force paperwhites and amaryllis for indoor bloom. Two holiday traditions that add color and fragrance to our decorations need to get started ASAP. Some decorating really does start before Thanksgiving.

Hang on before you panic. Below are the oh-so-easy steps for forcing the bulbs. This truly is a five minute project. Carol Dwyer, one of our annual department favorites, was happy to show us how in this step-by-step approach. (And if you don’t have five minutes, we have lots potted up and ready for sale. I know. I should have started with that. :)

Carol Dwyer, who does a great job working in our annuals department, is happy to show you how to get your bulbs started.

Your Supplies.

Steps for Planting.

Step one adding stones or soil

Chose Your Container: Add the stones or soil.

Container: A 3”-4” deep container with no drainage. Remember the phrase “tight shoulders,” which means you’ll be tucking the bulbs into the containers. It may feel overcrowded to you. It isn’t. This helps foliage to keep from flopping.

Stones or potting mix: Fill the container 1/3 full of stones or soil. The roots need at least 2” of potting mix or small, gravel-like stones to grow.

forcing paperwhites

Add the bulbs.

Bulbs: Place bulbs root side down. Unlike some spring blooming bulbs (daffodils and tulips) it is easy to identify the roots of the paperwhites and amaryllis. And, generally, at this time of year, a bit of green foliage is present.

Press the bulbs into rocks or soil. There is no need to bury the bulb. Bulbs should be sitting on top of the substrate.

forcing bulbs

Add moss, then water.

This step is optional—the moss, not the water. Moss pretties up the planting by adding another texture and stability, but be careful that the moss doesn’t keep too much moisture in. The bulbs should stay dry above the soil line. You may need to take the moss out if the soil gets too wet and allow it to dry out.

To water: water up to top of stones when water gets low. For soil, keep evenly moist.



Place container in a cool spot out of direct sunlight for 2-3 weeks, then place near a bright, sunny window. Turn the container every few days to keep the stems straight. To keep the stems shorter, try this trick using alcohol suggested by Cornell University.

Same Steps for the Amaryllis (hover over each picture for Additional information).

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.