How To Plant A Flower Bulb In Your Garden After Winter Forcing

How To Plant A Flower Bulb In Your Garden After Winter Forcing

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By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

While most people know how to plant a flower bulb in the garden, they may not know how to plant a winter-forced bulb or even a bulb plant gift outdoors. However, by following a few simple steps and a little luck, doing this with your bulb plant gift can be successful.

Can You Plant Forced Flowering Bulb Container Plants Outside?

Many people enjoy forcing flowering bulb container plants in the winter. Container plants that have been previously forced into bloom cannot be forced again; however, you can plant bulbs in the garden. If you plan to replant these forced bulbs outdoors, sprinkle a small amount of bulb boosting fertilizer on top of the soil, as most will not flower well again without some help. The bulbs use up a lot of their energy during the forcing process; therefore, the flowering bulb container plants’ blooms may not be as prolific as others.

Tulips, in particular, do not come back well after being forced. However, a hyacinth plant bulb and a daffodil plant bulb will generally continue to put out blooms, as well as some of the smaller bulbs, like crocus and snowdrops.

Plant bulbs in the spring once foliage has died down, just the same as how to plant a flower bulb that was not forced. Keep in mind that while some forced bulbs may flower again, there are no guarantees. It could also take a year or two before they return to their normal blooming cycle.

How to Plant a Flower Bulb Plant Gift in the Garden

If you’ve received a bulb plant gift, you may want to consider replanting it in the garden. Allow the foliage to die down naturally before removing any foliage. Then, let all flowering bulb container plants dry out as they prepare for dormancy.

After that, for winter bulb storage, keep them in the soil (in their container) and store in a cool, dry location (such as a garage) until the onset of spring, at which time you can plant bulbs outdoors. If you see roots emerging from the drainage holes or shoots appearing from the top of the bulbs, this is an indication that the plant bulb gift is ready to come out of storage.

Whether it’s a bulb plant gift or a winter-forced flowering bulb, container plants can also serve as suitable environments for winter bulb storage.

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Read more about General Bulb Care

How to Rebloom Potted Hyacinth Bulbs Outdoors

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You don't need to toss forced hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) flowers on the compost heap after you've enjoyed their perfume all winter. Mediterranean natives, hyacinth are perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Though the forcing process takes a lot out of a bulb, with some additional care you can get forced hyacinth bulbs to produce their short spires of blue, pink and white again by replanting them outdoors -- though it may take a few seasons.

Clip the flower stalk off at its base with hand pruners after the flower fades. Removing the flower head keeps the plant from expending energy on trying to produce seed, and lets it rebuild the bulb's strength for future blooming.

Move the pot to a sunny window.

Water the plant regularly, decreasing the amount that you water as the foliage fades. Include a water-soluble, all-purpose plant food when you water to give the bulb nutrients. Follow the label instructions. For instance, when using Miracle-Gro All-Purpose Plant Food, water feed with 10 drops of the product in 1 quart of water. Stop watering when the foliage is yellow and let the plant dry out.

Cut off the foliage with pruners after it is fully yellow.

Dig a hole in an area of the garden that is in partial shade in the coolest microclimate in your yard. Hyacinths are unreliable above zone 7 and do best in partial shade higher zones. The hole should be 8 to 12 inches deep and large enough to accomodate as many bulbs as you need to replant, allowing for 4 to 6 inches between hyacinth bulbs.

Scatter 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per 10 square feet across the bottom of the hole. Replace half of the soil in the hole and mix fertilizer in with the loosened soil.

Remove the bulbs from the potting soil and place them point up in the hole, adjusting the soil level so they are 6 to 8 inches below the soil surface.

Tulip bulbs are typically planted in the fall, but what happens when you forget to plant them and it’s already December or January? No worries. Here are my tips on how to plant bulbs in winter or late in the season.

What Do You Do With Forgotten Tulips?

Last January, I came across a bag of tulip bulbs that had gotten misplaced in my gardening shed. Evidently, the dozen tulips hid when I planted over 150 other bulbs in October. I was looking forward to seeing this variety’s colors lining my garden path. At least, that was the plan.

After doing a little research, I came across a study about planting tulip bulbs on top of the ground and late in the season, done by Cornell University.

  • Researchers found that you can grow gorgeous tulips in only mulch, 2 inches being the optimum depth. They experimented with mulch layers up to six inches deep and determined the two-inch covering (renewed every autumn) produced the largest amount of flowers and the most vigorous plants.
  • If you are looking at unplanted bulbs in December or January or even February– get them in the ground. Don’t wait for spring or next fall. Bulbs aren’t like seeds. They won’t survive out of the ground indefinitely.

How to Plant Those Tulips in Winter

According to the Cornell study (done over a six-year period), you should plant tulips late in the season this way:

  • Clear away snow and loosen soil, if possible. If not, choose an area with soil full of organic matter.
  • Scratch in bulb fertilizer. If the ground is totally frozen, scatter fertilizer sparingly and over a larger range than normal.
  • Place bulbs on top of soil. Do not press them in, as this will damage the bulb base, where roots form.
  • Cover with 2-4 inches of aged mulch or finished compost. Go for the thicker layer if planting during the height of winter, like I did.
  • Renew mulch covering often to be sure there is at least a two-inch layer.

Before you plant those forgotten bulbs, make sure they’re still good. Gently squeeze them and if they are firm (not dry or spongy), they are probably fine. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Planting in Pots

If the ground is too frozen for digging, another option is to plant the bulbs in pots. If you try this, keep the pots in a cool unheated area with temperatures between 38°F and 50° F – an attached garage or a home refrigerator often does the job. Water them and keep the soil moist but never soggy. After 8 or more weeks, bring a few pots indooros. Or, once spring begins to warm things up, move the pots outdoors to bloom.

What If Bulbs Come Up Early in Winter?

It’s not uncommon to have a mild winter and find your tulips or daffodils or other spring bulbs are sprouting. Don’t worry about this. Let nature take it’s course. Spring bulbs shrub off cold weather and even snow. These bulbs are built to survive the cold and even snow. Small bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus actually bloom through the snow. It’s possible that a hard frost will affect the buds or leaf tips, but the bulbs should still flower.

Bottom-line: Take your chances. No matter what, the bulbs are better off giving it a fighting chance in the ground or a chilled pot than wasting away in the garage or cupboard. Flower bulbs are survivors by nature’s design. Every year stories abound of bulbs that bloom after being planted under the most improbable circumstances.

Want more advice on planting and growing tulips?

Forcing the Bulbs to Bloom

After you take the pots in from the cold, start them out in a cool area (50-60 degrees) for about a week until shoots and leaves show. Then, move them to normal room temperature, avoiding direct sunlight. They will bloom in three to four weeks. The closer to spring, the quicker they will bloom. Bring out pots weekly for a continuous display. You can prolong the flowering by moving the pots back into the cool at night once they start to bloom.

Sadly, once forced most garden bulbs will not bloom again, either indoors or out. Thank them for their service and send them to the compost pile after flowering.

Want to learn more about winter gardening and forcing bulbs?

To find out more about forcing bulbs, including how to grow paper white narcissus and amaryllis, check out these websites:

Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Beauty in Winter by University of Minnesota Extension.

Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom by University of Missouri Extension.

Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.

Tips for Planting Bulbs

Related To:


Bulbs provide delayed gratification for gardeners who cultivate them. There are bulbs for any season, and they come in virtually every color of the rainbow. Remember these essential tips when planting bulbs in your garden:


Although bulbs come in a variety of sizes, buy ones that look as big as possible for that type of bulb. The bigger they are, the larger the flowers they'll produce. Before planting, inspect bulbs carefully, making sure that they look clean and are free of mold. They should be firm with no soft spots.


To plant bulbs, start with well-draining, loosened soil (especially important if you're planting daffodils). Bulbs are susceptible to rot when planted in poorly drained sites.

After the planting site has been prepared, lay out the bulbs in the desired planting pattern and plant them in the ground six to eight inches deep, generally about the depth of the blade of a planting knife or trowel. Make sure to plant spring-flowering bulbs that deep so they're protected from a winter freeze. Also as the bulbs grow, their roots will grow deeply into the soil so that they stand strong and tall, and the wind and rain won't blow them over. Plant the bulb with the pointed tip facing up.

Forcing Flower Bulbs

Part I: What is Forcing.

Many differnt fall bulbs can be forced in pots, including grape hyacinth.

We’ve all been there: for one reason or another you didn’t get to planting your spring-blooming bulbs this fall. Maybe you live in an apartment or condo where you have no yard, maybe the weather turned colder faster than you expected, or maybe you just plain didn’t get to it. Whatever the reason may be, it’s a bummer. This happened to me this year. Blame it on a lack of organization or the hectic nature of my life right now, regardless of the reasons why, I want to do something about. After all, I now know that when spring comes around and I see everyone else’s beautiful tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth blooming, I’m going to be kicking myself every harder.

In thinking about this the other day and talking to one of my dear friends who shares my love for gardening, we decided to try our hand at forcing bulbs this year. In discussing this, we realized what a great idea for a blog this would be! So this is Part I of our journey in forcing bulbs. I receive MANY questions regarding how to force and thought my readers may find it interesting to be led through the process step-by-step with real life results. Who knows how we may fair! We may fail or we may succeed! But one thing is certain: we will definitely learn!

What is Forcing?

Most fall-planted bulbs (such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth) require a “chilling period” in order for them to bloom and grow correctly. In climates where the winter temperatures remain cold enough for an adequate period of time (zones 2 through 7), this “chilling period” is provided naturally when bulbs are planted outdoors. However, if planting outdoors is not an option or you are located in a zone 8, 9, or 10, this chilling needs to be provided some other way. When this is done, it is referred to as “forcing” the flower bulbs. Basically, you are forcing the bulbs to grow and bloom through artificial means.

Next week, I’ll review some general guidelines for getting started and the steps you should take to begin the chilling process. Come along with me on this journey! In fact, you could try this at home along with me with your own fall-planted bulbs. Be sure to let me know if you’ll be forcing your own bulbs and keep me posted on the progress!

Watch the video: A guide to garden bulbs for beginners


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