How to Force Bulbs in Water

Forcing bulbs is fairly easy.  If you missed THIS POST, it will show you a very basic technique for forcing bulbs in soil.  To force bulbs in water, it is a little bit more tricky.  The key is getting water to the roots while not allowing the bulb itself to sit in water.  This takes a bit of attention and if you are afraid you might not check the water often enough, go ahead and through those bulb babies in some soil!
These are paperwhites (narcissus tazetta) nestled and snuggling in a glass vase specifically designed for forcing bulbs.  (My husband bought me tulips last spring...isn't he nice??  don't get me started or I might go on and on about the laundry chute he just made me!! :)

Anyway, the vase is pretty straightforward except for a little ridge near the bottom and a plastic "rack" for the bulbs to sit on.  If you don't have a vase that will work, just throw some stones in the bottom of a vase and you have the same basic idea.  (Perhaps you shouldn't hasten to throw the rocks into a glass vase...but you get my drift).

You can just barely see the plastic rack directly under the bulb.  Notice a few things in this photo above:
1.  There is a green tip on the bulb - that's good!
2.  The POINT is going UP and the ROOTS are going DOWN - THAT IS ESSENTIAL!
3.  The bulb is peeling a bit - that is OK!  It is still very well skinned :)

This is the tricky part.  See those white roots?  They don't start out like that.  They start out crumbly and dry like an onion.  (Check out a close up of daffodil bulb roots HERE).  When I first start bulbs in water, I allow them to sit in water JUST long enough for the roots to "wake up" and start getting white.  The roots will reach for the water and become plump.   At this point, do NOT let the bottom of the bulb sit in water.  You have to make sure the roots can reach water, but the bottom of the bulb doesn't rot.  It takes attention, but not skill.  Just keep an eye on things.
Questions?  Just Ask!

Update 1 week later:


grace said…
Great photo tutorial. I'm ready to get started :)
Fresh Mommy said…
Look at you! I need you in my life, I definitely don't have a green thumb. Ha.

Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!! :)

skayc1 said…
I fellow plantswapper! I planted some muscari bulbs today that my sister got me for christmas, I know that I should have done this sooner, only January has been a busy month, more than half the bulbs had baby bulbs attached, not as big as the one in your picture. I was debating whether or not to force the bulbs in water or not, and decided not. I have the luck of everything I try to grow in water to rot. I even failed at propagating things. Anyway, I'm thinking of letting them sit for a few days in the soil inside, then putting them outside on a warm day and letting nature put a hold on their growth till spring.
Jessie said…
Great post, thank you!!

I am going to try forcing tulips in water. Should I keep them in a vase with water in it in the fridge or should I keep them in a brown paper bag?

Amy Renea said…
Hi Jessica -

Keep them in a brown paper bag somewhere dark and cool (like the garage or basement) and then break them out in a few months for indoor forcing. If they go in water now, they will rot :(
Mary said…
Hello! I am very ambitiously hoping to force daffodils for my wedding in March (the 23rd). I'd like to force them in vases on pebbles or rocks, and my research is showing me that this should work quite well. Do you have any tips for me to insure my success? On water I hear they need to be in a dark, cool space for about 6 weeks, then brought gradually into light and warmth, and after about 3-5 weeks should be in bloom. Does this resonate with your experience? Much appreciated!