Forcing bulbs for the holidays, or for holiday gifts is a great idea to start now, when fall bulbs are available. You have a variety of healthy stock to choose from this time of year, and it really is an easy project! All is takes is some basic materials, fall bulbs, and a little room to store them until they bloom. Here is how to force bulbs for the holidays.

The most popular bulbs to force for the holidays are Paperwhite Narcissus and Amaryllis.  The Paperwhites are fragrant, delicate and smaller. Amaryllis is a large bulb and a larger plant, with large flowers in a  variety of colors. Red is an obvious holiday choice, but try white for a fresh option that can take you through the New Year.

How to Force Paperwhites

How to force paperwhites

Paperwhites are easy to force in a tall glass container, with some decorative gravel. The tall container helps to support the plants as they grow. I like to add a little charcoal from the indoor plant section to keep the water smelling sweet.

Purchase firm, full, blemish free bulbs. When forcing in particular, quality counts.

Pour in two inches of pebbles that have been rinsed. Add a tablespoon or two of rinsed  charcoal then more pebbles. Place bulbs, root-side down and almost touching one another, on top. Add enough tepid water to reach just below the bottoms of the bulbs. Replenish when the level falls by a quarter inch.

Paperwhites will bloom in four to six weeks, so if you are planting as gifts, count backwards in the calendar from the proposed gift giving time.

How to Force Amaryllis

Forcing Amaryllis

Force Amaryllis in a watertight, shallow container.  Fill the container until two thirds full, add charcoal bits as desired. Fill with slightly warm water until they just barely cover the pebbles. Lay one Amaryllis bulb on top of the pebbles, root side down. Try to purchase a bulb with fleshy, healthy looking roots. Add more pebbles until you reach the neck of the bulb, to give it support as it grows. Add water as needed so that the water level touches the bottom of the bulb. It’s ok to reach a finger down into the pebbles to check the level every couple of days.

If you have a container that fits the bulb snugly, you can force Amaryllis without any gravel at all.

Amaryllis bloom in six to eight weeks.

Neither Paperwhite nor Amaryllis will re-bloom after forcing, so it’s best to just discard the bulbs.

That’s it! Stock up at fall bulb sales and plant extra for gifts, for holiday decor, or plant some every two weeks to keep bulbs flowering right through to spring!

Image Credits: Bees and Chicks, Boisdejasmin, Parade


  1. Valerie October 18, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Oh my gosh, I LOVE this idea! Thanks!

  2. Joselita November 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Essa ideias alegram o coração!

  3. Katherine September 27, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    My Amaryllis is coo coo! It didn’t bloom at Christmas last year, but it did the year before. Instead it bloomed in Feb, and it’s blooming now at the end of Sept. I didn’t do anything to it. I left it in its pot and didn’t feed it, didn’t move it from the garage till I saw a bud coming up. Maybe next year it’ll come up at Christmas??? I love it either way ; )

  4. Sue P. October 24, 2014 at 8:24 am

    We’re doing this paperwhite project at our women’s Christmas Craft event at church next month. I forced some for the first time last year and they were beautiful in a blue and white Polish pottery dish with blue and white sea glass for the pebbles. I lightly spray painted a stick about 18″ tall to serve as a stake to tie them to when they got really tall.

  5. denise November 16, 2014 at 5:07 am

    is there a way to know if the bulb you have has been forced already?

  6. ANN RYMER November 17, 2014 at 10:07 am


  7. Phillis Keslin November 22, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    A few years ago I found an online article on forcing paperwhites from Cornell University, titled “Pickling your Paperwhites.” The project was to find a way to prevent the forced bulbs from becoming so “leggy” which they are prone to do. You put the bulbs in water with pebbles or gravel. After about a week when the shoots are 1-2″ above the top of the bulb, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6% alcohol, made with just about any “hard” liquor. You can do the calculations to figure the dilution such as: To get a 5% solution from a 40% distilled liquor, (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila) you add 1 part of the liquor to 7 parts of water. Just use this mixture for further watering of the bulbs. I tried this procedure and it works! I used vodka but article said rubbing alcohol would work as well. Don’t use a stronger solution than 10% as it will affect the bulbs growth too much. The article was posted by: William B. Miller, Professor of Horticulture, Director of the Flowerbulb Research Program, Cornell University. Research was done by Erin Finan who worked this project as a senior project.

    1. Kathy Woodard December 30, 2014 at 9:48 am

      Hi Phyllis! We tried this this year with vodka, not sure it was as helpful for us, but perhaps I didn’t mix a strong enough solution… we have heard this over and over, so readers, let us know… have you tried it?

  8. allan December 13, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I should do this because outside so many flower thieves….If I wait when it flower maybe it will flower to other house…

  9. Angélica November 15, 2016 at 8:31 am

    I purchased 20 bulbs and put them in water like you said but the water is rotting! Stinks really bad! What am I doing wrong?

    1. Kathy Woodard December 1, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      Did you add the charcoal like we said in the post? That’s exactly what that does, keeps the water from getting smelly like that. Also, is the water just touching the bottom of the bulb? If too much of the bulb is under water, is may rot. Hope this helps!


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