Forcing Tender Bulbs Indoors Back »

Narcissus bulbs.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if they can still force their spring-flowering bulbs. Unfortunately, it is likely too late to try to force bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinth etc. which should have been potted up last fall or planted out in the garden. Theses cold-hardy bulbs need to go through a rooting phase, right after planting, and then a vernalization period of nine to 12 weeks before they will flower. If you still have some of these bulbs, they are likely not any good now since they have probably dried out and died. You could still try potting them up just to see what happens though. Put them in a cool location, probably outside to see if they might still grow when the weather warms up. A window well might be a good place if you cover them up with leaves or some other insulating material. Or, if you have room in a refrigerator, that will work too.

Even though we have probably missed the time for forcing the early spring flowering bulbs, you can start other kinds of frost tender bulbs now that may flower in your home in a month or two. Later they can be replanted outside once it warms up.


Probably the most common flowering bulb that folks will have blooming now or over the next few weeks are the amaryllis. Typically, these bulbs are for sale before Christmas, but if you had a plant from a previous year and allowed it to go dormant last fall or early winter, often they come out of dormancy at about this time of year. Just watch for signs of the new flower buds to emerge from the top of the bulb as your cue to start watering them again. They are glorious any time they flower!

Amaryllis 'Double Record'.


Red Amaryllis close.



There are a number of begonia species that can be grown from tubers that you can purchase at this time of year. Some have large, single or double flowers that are up to 3 to 5” in diameter. These will often be listed as “tuberous begonias”. They come in a wide variety of colors too. Other types of tuberous begonias produce a multitude of flowers on well-branched plants.While these can be grown in the home, it is probably better to get them started in some larger pots, then move them outdoors to even larger pots or even plant them directly in a flower bed, after all danger of frost has passed.

Begonia tuberhybrida flowers.


Begonia 'SantaCruz'.


Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia)

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia) are one of my favorites. You will often see these for sale for spring holidays as potted plants. They are quite easy to grow and can flower in the home if they are given adequate sunlight. The foliage is quite attractive and may be plain green or with white spots. Flower colors range from white to pink, mauve, orange, yellow, red or nearly black. These too can be planted out in the garden once temperatures warm up. They may continue to flower most of the summer and into the fall if you remove spent flowers. Once the tops die down after the first frost, carefully dig up the tubers and store them for next year.


Caladiums are grown for their colorful foliage, which comes in a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from green to white, red and pink, and are usually in striking patterns. While these are usually best grown outdoors, the bulbs are difficult to get to start growing under cool soil conditions so it is actually best to pot them up, then place them in a warm location to begin growing. Once it warms up outside, you can replant them in a semi-shaded location to enjoy their vibrant colors all season long.

Caladium 'White Queen'.


Caladium 'Rosebud'.


Colocasia & Alocasia

Colocasia and Alocasia are another group of plants grown for their colorful foliage. Many new hybrids have been released in recent years. Once again, potting them up indoors a couple months before your last frost date, can give them a chance to get growing and create a much better display earlier in the summer than if you planted the bulbs directly into the garden. These plants can grow to be quite large, often 3 to 4’ in height with leaves that may be 12 to 20” long and 8 to 10“ wide. These sub-tropical plants also work very well in containers and can even have their pots submerged in water gardens.

Shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis)

St. Patrick’s Day just passed, but you might still have time to plant some shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis) which not only provide us with those characteristic clover-like leaves but also pretty little pink or white flowers. There are a few different cultivars available, some with plain green leaves, others with darker patches in the center of the leaflets or the leaves may be burgundy-red. The little bulbs are easy to plant, grow and make great houseplants for St. Patrick's Day and throughout the year.

Summer-Flowering Bulbous Plants

There are many other summer-flowering bulbous plants that grow best outdoors but can be started indoors to get a jump on spring. Dahlia tubers are often divided and started indoors so that they have more time to grow and develop their lovely flowers, which often do not appear until later in the summer. You may find various types of lilies growing in pots for sale at your local garden center or greenhouse. While you can plant these in pots indoors, you are probably better off keeping the bulbs refrigerated until you can plant them directly into your garden this spring. Canna rhizomes can be started in larger pots prior to planting outdoors but the typical canna plant can be quite large and take up a lot of windowsill space. So, unless you have access to a greenhouse, it is probably better to plant them directly outside later in the spring. Likewise, gladiolus should be planted directly in the garden. Hardy perennial bulbs like daylilies, should be planted directly in the garden too. Generally you will receive these as bare-root plants. So, keep them in a cool location until the soil warms up a bit, probably around mid-April.

Dalia tuberous root.

Dahlia hybrid.


Gladiolus hortulanus pink.


Cold Sensitive Bulbs

If you feel a bit adventurous, you can also try other cold sensitive bulbs like Eucomis, the pineapple lily. This South African native has a very interesting flower stalk that is reminiscent of a pineapple. Most cultivars are hardy to Zones 6 or 7 so you will have to use them as an annual or dig and store the bulbs over the winter. Agapanthus, another African flowering bulb is another great addition to the garden or large container. It las long, strap-like leaves and a large flower umbel, similar to that of an Allium. Flowers are usually white or blue. Ismene (Hymenocallis) is another tender bulb, native to Ecuador and Peru. It also has strap-like leaves, similar to that of the Amaryllis. It has delicate and very fragrant flowers that are usually white. Dig these tender bulbs in the fall and store them over the winter so that you can enjoy them again next year.

Agapanthus Headbourne. By Brent and Becky's Bulbs.

Eucomis Pole Evansii.
By Brent and Becky's Bulbs.

Hymenocalis f Zwannenberg.
By Brent and Becky's Bulbs.
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