10 reasons why I love bulb-forcing


1. If you can’t grow tulips in the ground because of critter problems—which seem  to increase for everyone every year these days—this is your answer. Not the same but it’s all you might get.

2. Here is a form of indoor gardening where your inhospitable household conditions aren’t going to make a difference. Bulbs have the strength to make it for the short haul, even with dry central heating.

3. Bulbs that look kind of dorky in the ground—like hyacinths—look great forced in pots inside.

4. For many Southern  gardeners, forcing is a way to grow bulbs that otherwise cannot be grown in their zones.

5. Some flowers are just meant to be forced and enjoyed inside. That is where they come into their own. I am thinking of the Erlicheer and Golden Rain tazettas. Or hippeastrum.

6.  In these parts, it’s often simply too cold to really hang around and enjoy hyacinths or early tulips in their normal blooming period. Inside, no gusts of wind can blow them over or shrivel them up.

7. Madame Pompadour knew bulb forcing was cool; she had 200 hyacinths on glass at one point. In fact, it was quite commonplace right through the nineteenth century throughout Europe and Great Britain. What happened? Some customs are well worth reviving.

8.  This is a part of gardening where you can feel free to experiment, break all the rules, and try things just for the heck of it, while you have the quiet time of the off season. Will iris force? Will scilla? If cut flower companies do it, maybe you can too. 

9. Bulb forcing comes with cool accoutrements, like pretty hyacinth vases. 

10. In January and February, you are watching flowers that you have planted come out of the dirt.


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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. My what a lovely basement you have with all that room and stone slab shelving. I bet your basement is as big as my whole house, the house with one lonely closet, 2/3rds filled with plumbing infrastructure.

    My bulbs will have to remain outside where I am land rich.

  2. Kaviani,

    You can buy tuberose in the spring and overwinter it after bloom, but how about freesia? That is a winter forcer/grower and I think it is heavenly. Brent and Beckys and Scheepers have them.

  3. Hey, how did you get a picture of my basement? I have an area like this under the front porch. It has insulation, but not enough, because it does get below freezing. I found that out when I froze a whole box of citrus fruit. Doesn’t get cold enough to freeze the beer. Wonder which catagory the bulbs would fall into, beer or citrus?

  4. What a delightfully creepy basement! Looks like a great place to hide out during the Zombie Apocalypse! Is there a horde of amazing wines in one of the other unseen corners? I wish I had a basement like that, I have to chill tulips in the refrigerator to force them so there is a finite space available. But luckily outside my Urginea maritima and Boophane disticha are coming out of summer dormancy, and since they have finally reached “cantaloupe size” hopefully I will get blooms this year.

  5. I tried freesias last winter and they did nothing. In June, I finally cleared out the soil they were in and used it to pot up some balloon flowers. The stupid freesias sprouted around July and still have their foliage poking around but have not bloomed.

    I don’t know if I got iffy bulbs or what, but I’m won’t try them again unless someone gives me forced ones. My ex used to grow them marvelously, but that skill is not sexually transmitted. 🙁

  6. I caved and ordered more narcissus from Brent and Becky’s yesterday. I need their sunny flowers to get me through January.

    Mom bought hyacinths to get us through February and March. If she doesn’t get the 150 tulips in the ground by Thanksgiving, they’ll get forced too.

    Forcing is for those of us who cannot wait until spring.


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