Find out how to Develop Potted Bulbs Indoors

The wait for spring can be long and arduous for gardeners. During those cold and gloomy winter months, I’ll do anything for a taste of spring to drum up excitement for the season. That’s where potted bulbs come in handy.

If you simply can’t wait for spring, why not grow your bulbs indoors over the fall and winter? Through a process known as forcing, you can enjoy the intricate flowers of hyacinths, daffodils, and a range of others in your indoor garden.

There are a few essential steps to ensure they flower at the right time. Here’s how to get it right.


Close-up shot of a variety of Crocus and Daffodil bulbs on a wooden surface. Crocus bulbs are small, rounded bulbs with a papery outer layer. They have a teardrop shape and brown outer layer. Daffodil bulbs are larger and more elongated, resembling an oblong onion. They have a brownish outer skin with a somewhat tapered shape.Select the right varieties for successful indoor flowering, considering their chilling requirements.

Successful flowering starts with choosing the perfect bulbs to grow indoors. Luckily, growing most types indoors (even the fussier ones) is possible if you can provide the right conditions.

Some are more commonly grown indoors, including:

  • Hyacinth
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Crocus
  • Amaryllis

The level of maintenance required to induce flowering will depend on the types you choose. Most must be chilled before flowering for a certain period (covered in the forcing section below), while warm-region species like paperwhites and amaryllis don’t need pre-chilled. Part of choosing the right bulb is deciding how long you want to wait for flowers and how much work you will put in.

While a display of just one indoor variety is stunning, I like combining a few different types in separate containers. If you chill them at slightly different times, you’ll enjoy a continuously changing display that is always in flower.

No matter what flowers you choose, it’s important to ensure they are healthy and viable before planting. You don’t want to go through the planting process and care only to find they never sprout.

Signs of a Healthy Bulb

Close-up of several tulip bulbs in male hands against a blurry green background. Tulip bulbs are medium in size, with a teardrop shape. Encased in a brown, papery outer layer, these bulbs feature a firm and compact structure.Select healthy bulbs for planting by choosing firm, disease-free, non-shriveled, and larger options for a robust start.

Whether using previously stored bulbs or purchasing new ones, there are a few signs of health to look out for.

Healthy bulbs will be firm to the touch without mushy or sunken spots.

Don’t plant if they are discolored, mushy, or moldy.

Severe shriveling is a sign of lack moisture. These will struggle to grow after planting without rehydration.

Larger bulbs typically grow into stronger plants with better flowers.

For the strongest start, ensure they are healthy and primed for planting. You can still plant smaller or slightly shriveled ones and hope for the best, but avoid planting any with pests or diseases to stop the issue from spreading.


Top view of bulbs with sprouts in four pots in a paper bag. Daffodil, Hyacinth and tulip bulbs. The bulbs are planted in pots with soil mixture.Force indoor flowering by chilling based on the typical flowering time, using methods like the refrigerator or cool rooms.

Depending on your chosen varieties, you may need to chill them before planting to encourage them to flower. This process is known as forcing, as you are forcing the plants to flower slightly earlier than they naturally would outdoors.

The chill time is based on the typical flowering time and region – in other words, how many weeks of cold they typically receive in their native habitats before they begin to flower.

Flowers that bloom first in spring and come from cold climates, like crocus, usually need around eight to ten weeks of chilling time minimum to flower. Those that bloom in the middle of spring, like some daffodils, will need around 12 weeks (often longer), and late-spring bloomers, like tulips, need around 15 weeks of chilling time. After this chilling period, they will flower within about three weeks.

The easiest way to chill is to pop them in the refrigerator in a mesh bag to promote airflow. Don’t store them with ripening fruits, as ethylene can interfere with the growing process. You can also leave them in your home’s basement or a cool room if temperatures are around 40F.

It’s also possible to chill bulbs inside their pots, either in a cool room or outdoors if you have the space. Managing temperatures is the most important aspect of the process if you want them to flower at a certain time, so the storage method is up to you.


After this chilling period, it’s time to plant in their new containers. The change in temperature to a warmer and brighter spot will tell them it’s time to produce new growth and prepare for flowering.


Close-up of a green-gloved hand planting a Hyacinth bulb in a large white container filled with soil and planted flowering plant bulbs. The Hyacinth bulb is compact and squat, resembling a small onion in shape. It features a smooth, papery outer layer of purple and brown shades.Plant in deep containers with drainage holes or use bulb vases with water as an alternative.

You can plant in almost any container indoors, as long as it is deep enough to accommodate the root system. Pots with drainage holes are recommended to allow any excess moisture to escape, preventing bulb rot.

But if you don’t want to go the traditional pot route, my favorite containers for indoor bulbs are specialized bulb vases. These vases have a large opening that narrows slightly before filling out again, allowing you to place the bulb inside and above the water line. The roots will grow down into the water while the bulb remains mostly dry.

The only problem with these containers is that they typically only fit one bulb at a time. You may need to invest in a couple at a time for a fuller display or stick to planting several in larger pots instead.


Close-up of a woman pouring soil with a garden trowel into a white decorative pot for planting bulbs, on a wooden table, indoors. On the table there is also a small bag full of tulip bulbs and a bag of fresh soil.Use high-quality potting soil with good drainage, ensuring pointed side faces upward.

Fill your container with high-quality potting soil to retain moisture. If your container doesn’t have much (or any) drainage, plant in a lighter potting mix to prevent rotting.

Each bulb will have slightly different instructions for planting, particularly when it comes to planting depth. Check the instructions on the packaging for steps to get it right. Regarding spacing, you can generally plant in containers slightly closer than in beds outdoors.

The most important thing to remember when planting is to plant the pointed side upwards. If you accidentally plant them upside down, you guarantee they won’t grow successfully.


After planting, managing the environment is key to a long and successful blooming period.


Close-up of young Hyacinth bulbs starting to bloom in a blue pot on a light windowsill with sunlight. Five bulbs are planted in a pot. Hyacinth bulbs are small and teardrop-shaped, with a papery purple outer layer. They have narrow, strap-like green leaves. These leaves grow directly from the base of the bulb, forming a compact, upright clump. It sends up a central flower spike, adorned with tightly packed, fragrant florets of pinkish and yellow color.Gradually acclimate them to light by starting in a dim area before moving to brighter, indirect light.

Immediately after planting, keeping the pot in a slightly dim area is best to slowly acclimatize to the new conditions, replicating seasonal changes in their native habitats. Once you spot new green growth (usually within about a week), you can move the container into a brighter area to promote flowering.

Avoid any harsh direct sun as this can cause the flowers that do emerge to wilt quicker. Cool areas with mostly bright indirect light throughout the day are best if you want your flowers to last long. You can also move their containers to a cooler area at night to preserve the blooms.


Close-up of a woman in a yellow sweater and striped apron is watering a potted plant of daffodil and hyacinth bulbs using a yellow watering can, indoors. The plants are planted in a large greenish-blue pot with decorative fabric handles on the sides. Daffodil plants are characterized by their distinctive, strap-like leaves that emerge from the base in a neat, grass-like arrangement. Daffodil flowers, known for their trumpet-shaped corona surrounded by petal-like tepals, are white and yellow in color. Grape hyacinth plants have slender, spiky leaves that resemble grass blades. Rising from the foliage, the grape hyacinth's flower spikes bear numerous small, blue, bell-shaped flowers that closely resemble clusters of grapes.Water regularly for improved root growth, keeping the soil slightly moist but not soggy to prevent rot.

Regular watering will promote better root growth, delivering even better flowers later on. The soil should remain slightly moist but never soggy, as this can lead to rot. If you’re growing in water alone, monitor the water line so the bulb’s base is always lightly touching the water and the roots are covered.


Blooming spring bulbous flowers on the window. Forced flowering of crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths for in pots, on a light windowsill. Flower pots are tucked into decorative wicker planters in wood and white shades. The cup-shaped flowers of crocuses are purple. The vertical inflorescence of hyacinths consists of many small star-shaped blue flowers. Daffodils bloom with bright yellow flowers.Bulbs store nutrients, reducing the need for additional fertilizer.

Bulbs are storage vessels that contain moisture and nutrients. That means they should have all the nutrients they need to flower successfully at planting time without your additional effort. You can take fertilizing off your to-do list, simply enjoying the blooms within three to four weeks.

After Flowering

Close-up of faded Daffodils plants with bulbs in a round bowl with soil and scissors, on a white wooden table. Daffodil bulbs are elongated, resembling small onions, with a brownish outer skin. They give slender, green leaves arranged in a grass-like fashion. The flowers are dry, withered, yellow-orange.Remove plants from the container after flowering and compost them instead of replanting.

Once they have finished flowering and start to die back, remove them from their container.

As the forcing process is hard on the plants, it’s highly unlikely that they will flower again the following season. There is, therefore, no need to store them for replanting or put any effort into forcing them again to flower.

The best place for them after flowering is your compost heap. Here, they will continue to be useful, and you won’t have to make space in your indoor garden for plants that won’t flower. If you want to grow indoors again next year, buy new and fresh ones to increase your chances of success.

Final Thoughts

Impatient gardeners who want to brighten their indoor gardens over winter should try growing potted bulbs indoors. They are wonderful additions to any indoor garden, especially for those who don’t have the outdoor space to grow them.

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