How to Force Tulips Indoors

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

A cheerful pot of forced tulips on the kitchen counter will brighten even the gloomiest winter days. Their blooms are a refreshing reminder that spring is on the way and forcing them is a therapeutic and rewarding experience. 

Knowing how to force tulips starts with understanding forcing in general. Forcing is the process of encouraging bulbs to bloom ahead of their natural flowering time. In order to accomplish this, we simulate winter by prechilling the bulbs. Prechilling stimulates a biochemical response that “turns on” the bulb and tells the embryonic flower to start developing.

Every bulb requires a different chilling period in order to flower properly. Most tulip bulbs need a chilling time of 12-19 weeks at 35-45° F. The chilling time varies by cultivar and a detailed list from Cornell can be found HERE. You can always chill a bulb longer than necessary, just not shorter because then they will fail to flower properly.   

How to Pre-Chill Tulip Bulbs 

The crisper drawer of your refrigerator is the ideal place to pre-chill bulbs. Place your tulip bulbs into a brown paper bag and then place it into the refrigerator crisper drawer. Avoid placing the bulbs near ripening fruit such as apples or pears which give off Ethelyne gas and can cause the flower inside the bulb to abort. Allow the bulbs to chill in your refrigerator for 12-19 weeks. After chilling you can plant the bulbs. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

How to Force Tulips Indoors

Choose a strong container with a drainage hole and fill it halfway with premoistened potting soil. Plant the tulip bulbs close together with the pointy side of the bulb facing up. Cover with more soil, until the tips are about an inch below the soil surface. Then water thoroughly to settle the bulbs in place.   

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Encourage Strong Roots 

Forced tulip bulbs will benefit from 1-2 weeks in a cold, dark environment after planting. This additional time in a cool, dark place will encourage strong root growth which will support the stems. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Place the potted tulips in a cool, dark area that’s approximately 50° F (such as an unheated basement or cool kitchen cabinet) for 1-2 weeks.  During this time in darkness the roots will grow but very little shoot growth will emerge. This is exactly what we want. Next, bring the bulbs out of darkness and place them in an area with bright, indirect light with temperatures around 60-68°F.  Rotate the pots periodically to keep the flowering spikes straight and water as necessary to keep the soil moist. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Forced tulips will bloom in approximately one month. Keeping the pots in a relatively cool location out of direct sunlight will extend their bloom time. Since these tulip bulbs will fail to flower properly in subsequent years they can be discarded after blooming.

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Best tulip varieties for forcing 

Exotic Emperor (15 weeks of chilling) – Exotic Emperor is an elegant tulip with layers of creamy white petals that are brushed with lime green highlights. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens 

Apricot Delight (15 weeks of chilling) – Apricot Delight has ivory petals that are brushed with rose, pale pink and peach. The foliage displays an attractive purple variegation on the inner leaves.   

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Mystic Van Eijk (14 weeks of chilling) – A lovely coral pink tulip with accents of darker pink and apricot. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Black Hero (15 weeks of chilling) – Black Hero is the double version of Queen of Night. It has glossy maroon petals and peony-like flowers. 

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Foxy Foxtrot (17 weeks of chilling) – This double early tulip has ruffled honey-gold, apricot and peach petals.  

How to Force Tulips Longfield Gardens

Learn more about how to force tulips by watching our tulip forcing video HERE.