For many of us it’s not uncommon to do a little winter cleaning and find a bag of spring-blooming bulbs that didn’t make it in the ground. For most of the country, the ground is frozen, making it impossible to get these tulips, daffodils, hyacinths or other spring bulbs planted. If you’re lucky enough to find them before the ground is frozen, go ahead and plant them. If not, planting the bulbs in pots is a good alternative. This process is called forcing bulbs into bloom.

Hyacinth bulbs indoors
Hyacinth bulbs can be “forced” to bloom in pots.

How to Plant in Pots:

Grab an empty all-weather pot, if available and enough potting mix to fill it. If you don’t have empty pots because they still contain last fall or summer’s annuals, don’t despair. If it’s been outside it’s likely the soil (or potting mix) in the pot is frozen, so drag the container into a heated garage or the house to allow it to thaw. Smaller pots thaw fairly quickly while bigger pots may take several days. To control some of the mess, place the thawing container on a tarp or sheet of plastic.

  1. Remove 4 to 6 inches of the thawed soil and place in a bucket or on a tarp. If using a fresh pot, add enough potting mix to raise the level to about 6 inches from the rim.
  2. Nestle the bulbs, pointed end up, into the soil in the pot.
  3. Return the soil you removed back to the pot. Or, add potting mix, as needed.
  4. Gently tamp down the soil. Leave about 1 inch from the soil level to the rim of the pot.
  5. Water the pot until the liquid runs out the drainage hole.

A Few Tips:

  • Bulbs need a cold period of six to 12 weeks in order to bloom. Stow the potted bulbs in an unheated garage, on a porch or other area protected from freezing. If outdoors and exposed to the elements, consider placing the pots in a cooler to keep them from freezing and thawing, a process that may turn the bulbs to mush.
  • Once the bulbs emerge through the soil, move the pot to an indoor counter, the front porch step, balcony or other place where you can enjoy the seasonal beauty. Give it a finished look with a bit of Spanish moss on top of the pot.
  • You could also place the pot of bulbs in a larger container for a spring arrangement with pansies, violas or other cool-season annuals. Even some perennials that arrive early at garden centers, such as coral bells, look nice in a pot with spring bulbs.

After the bulbs have finished blooming, you have a couple of options. Most people toss forced bulbs, but some gardeners will transplant the bulbs to the garden. If transplanting, apply a fertilizer rich in natural organic nutrients according to label directions. It’s likely the bulbs will bloom again after a year or two of bulking up for their spring show.