Forcing flower bulbs indoors is an excellent way to brighten the cold, gray days of winter. Two of the easiest bulbs to force indoors are the amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus (daffodil).
Amaryllis bulbs can be purchased pre-planted in pots or unpotted. When purchasing unpotted amaryllis bulbs select large, solid bulbs. The largest bulbs often produce 2 flower stalks. Gardeners can choose from single-flowering, double-flowering, and miniature varieties. Flower colors include red, pink, orange, salmon, white, and bicolors.
When planting an amaryllis bulb, select a pot which is approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. The container may be clay, ceramic or plastic, but should have drainage holes in the bottom. Plant the bulb in a well-drained potting soil. Add a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot. Center the bulb in the middle of the pot. Then add additional potting soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. When finished potting, the upper one-half of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Also, leave about one inch between the soil surface and the pot's rim. Then water well and place in a warm (70 to 75 degree Fahrenheit) location.
Check the pot before watering a pre-planted amaryllis bulb. If the container doesn't have drainage holes, remove the bulb and replant it in a pot with drainage holes. Water well.
After the initial watering, allow the soil to dry somewhat before watering again. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. When growth appears, move the plant to a sunny window and apply a water-soluble fertilizer ever 2 to 4 weeks.
During flower stalk elongation, turn the pot each day to keep the flower stalk growing straight. Flower stalks that lean badly will need to be staked.
Flowering usually occurs about 6 to 8 weeks after potting. When the amaryllis begins to bloom, move the plant to a slightly cooler (65 to 70 degree Fahrenheit) location that doesn't receive direct sun to prolong the life of the flowers.
Some individuals discard their amaryllis after it is done blooming. However, if given proper care, it is possible to save the amaryllis and force it to flower again next winter.
Paperwhite narcissus produce clusters of small white, yellow, or orange flowers on 12- to 18-inch-tall stems. The flowers of most varieties produce a moderate to strong musky fragrance. Paperwhite narcissus bulbs can be forced in clear, shallow bowls (no drainage holes) or pots.
When forcing paperwhite narcissus in bowls, partially fill the container with washed gravel or stones. Place the bulbs on the gravel or stones. Then place additional gravel or stones around the bulbs, leaving the tips (noses) of the bulbs exposed. Add water to the bowl until it touches the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain the water at this level throughout the forcing period.
When forcing paperwhites in pots, partially fill the container with potting soil. Place the bulbs on the soil surface. Then add additional potting soil. When potted, the tips of the bulbs should stick above the potting soil. Water the potting soil thoroughly. Keep the potting soil moist throughout the forcing period.
Place the planted bulbs in a cool (50 to 55 degree Fahrenheit), dark location for 1 to 2 weeks to encourage root growth. When the shoots reach a height of 3 inches, move the plants to a sunny window with a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. As the plants continue to grow, staking is often necessary as the plants are rather floppy. Flowering typically occurs 3 to 6 weeks after potting. When the paperwhites begin to flower, move the plants from direct sunlight to prolong their bloom period.
Paperwhite narcissus bulbs should be discarded after flowering. Paperwhites cannot be successfully forced again and are not winter hardy outdoors.