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What are Forced Bulbs?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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Forced bulbs are bulbs that have been treated in a special way so that they will flower sooner than they normally would. Especially if you want some of your tulips, daffodils or the like to be blooming by late January or early February, you may want to try forcing bulbs. Alternately, you’ll frequently find forced bulbs with already flowering plants in grocery stores and at florists at this time of year. The only disadvantage to this process is that forcing may mean you only get one year of blooms, instead of the many years of blooming that may occur if bulbs are planted outside and left strictly alone. This can vary though, and some people have good luck with replanting forced bulbs.

If you’re not purchasing forced bulbs from a grocery store, you have to plan early. You’ll need to start the process of forcing the bulbs in October to get blooms by January or February. When you purchase bulbs, you’ll want to pot them immediately, and give them a quick watering. Next you’ll need to place them in a cool place for at least eight weeks, until they begin to root and start sending up shoots.

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Where to store the potted bulbs can be a good question. Usually you might be heating your home by October; so if you plan to store the bulbs inside, the refrigerator is the best place. A storage shed or a cold garage can work equally well, but you want to keep the bulbs away from light and heat, and you also want to make sure the bulbs get adequate moisture. Water them every three to four days.

After you have roots and shoots, you begin a week long process of warming the bulbs. This generally means bringing them into the house if they’ve been outdoors, but the introduction to warmth should be gradual. They should not be in sunlight for this first week, and you should also be sure to maintain moisture, but not over-water. If you want the forced bulbs flowering later, you can keep them at cooler temperatures for a bit longer than a week; read guides on specific timelines for each type of flower.

Once the plants have undergone the warming process of a week or more, they can be in sunlight. Generally, optimum temperature for the plants as this point should be about 60-65 degrees F (15.56-18.33 C). A warmer temperature will usually cause the plants to flower sooner.

If you’d like to try replanting your forced bulbs, it’s important to keep watering the plants after they’ve flowered. Aim for lightly moistened soiled, not super soaked soil, by watering every few days. Tulips are notorious for not surviving forcing; crocuses and other smaller flowers may fare better. Of course, if the plants won’t flower again, you can always get new bulbs in the fall for either forcing or regular planting in your garden.

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