How To Trick Tulips Into Blooming

Force-bloom tulip bulbs to have flowers ready for early spring gifting.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Nothing kicks the winter blahs to the curb like thoughts of spring. If winter puts you down in the dumps, take a giant proactive step right now by forcing tulip bulbs to be in bloom just in time for Easter’s arrival.

Tulips are one of the easiest plants to “trick” into blooming early. Essentially, the bulbs are planted in a container and then subjected to an artificial winter in order to initiate their blooms. The potted bulbs experience a set number of days below a critical temperature (usually about 40 to 45 degrees F), and voila, a few weeks later, you have gorgeous blooms.

To start your bulb-forcing journey, head to a local garden center for bulbs. By now, they’ll probably be selling them at a deep discount—and they might even be happy to give them away to a good home! If you can’t find them locally, purchase tulip bulbs for forcing from an online bulb purveyor, such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs or Whiteflower Farm. Although almost any variety of tulip can be forced into an early bloom, I try to stick with short or mid-height varieties so they don’t topple over in the pot.

You’ll also need a special nursery pot called a “bulb pan” or another type of low, bowl-like container with drainage holes. I like to use fabric pots for forcing bulbs because they’re easy to slip inside a decorative basket or a fancier ceramic container. When it’s time to water the bulbs, I lift the fabric bag out of the basket or pot and take it to the sink for watering. If you reuse a container you already have on-hand, sanitize it with a 10-percent bleach solution and rinse it well prior to planting.

Fill the bottom few inches of the pot with sterile, soil-less potting mix. Then sink the base of the bulbs into the mix, pointy side up. Cover the bulbs with more potting mix so the noses of the bulbs are less than an inch beneath the soil surface.

Water the pot in well and cover it with a sealed plastic bag. Put the bag-enclosed pot in the back of the refrigerator or in an unheated garage where it’s cold but not freezing.

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Check the pot every two weeks and add more water, if necessary, but be careful not to overwater because mold will grow on the surface of the soil.

Allow the potted bulbs to “chill” for about 10 weeks. When this time has passed, remove the container from the fridge or garage and put it into a warm room. Start watering it regularly, and within a week or so the bulbs will begin to sprout. Soon after, they’ll be in full bloom. Keep the flowers out of direct sunlight to prolong their bloom time.

If you want tulips that bloom even earlier, you can pot bulbs for forcing as early as September or October. These containers will be in bloom in late January or February.

Forcing tulip bulbs is so easy, and it’s a great way to keep your green thumbs active and usher in spring a little bit early!

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