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How to grow tulips indoors

Growing tulips indoors is called “forcing.” The process involves simulating natural outdoor growing by controlling temperature and light. This method is popular for enjoying tulip blooms during winter or early spring (before outdoor tulips bloom).

How to grow tulips indoors

Growing tulips indoors, also known as “forcing tulips,” involves these steps:

  1. Choose large, firm tulip bulbs without any signs of damage or disease.
  2. Tulips need a cold treatment to simulate winter. Store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 12-16 weeks. Avoid storing them near ripening fruit, as the ethylene gas can damage the bulbs.
  3. Choose a clean pot with drainage holes. Fill it with well-draining potting soil.
  4. Plant the bulbs close together but not touching, with the pointed ends up. The top of the bulbs should be just below the soil surface.
  5. After planting, water thoroughly so that the soil is moist but not waterlogged.
  6. Once shoots appear, move the pot to a cool, sunny spot. Gradually increase light and temperature.
  7. Water as needed to keep the soil moist. Rotate the pot regularly for even growth.

Forcing tulips indoors allows you to enjoy their blooms earlier than outdoor tulips.

Soil for planting tulips in a container

Choose the right pot

Selecting the right pot for growing your tulip bulbs is key. The easiest pot to grow them in is a wide terracotta flower pot with drainage holes at the bottom so excess water can escape. Choose a pot that’s wide rather than tall and narrow for best results. Sometimes, these shallow pots are labeled as bulb-forcing pots.

That said, you can certainly grow these low-maintenance bulbs in less-than-perfect containers. I often use a tin that is only a few inches deep and doesn’t have drainage holes. I just make sure not to water too much (no mud), and it turns out just fine.

Tulip bulbs
Supplies for growing tulips inside
A terra cotta flower pot with a drainage hole would be ideal. But an old tin works just fine too.
Planted tulips in pan

Prepare the soil

Fill the pot with moist potting soil to around two-thirds of its capacity. Water the soil surface to settle it.

Placing bulbs on potting mix base

Plant your tulips

Plant bulbs so that their pointed ends are facing up. When you plant outdoors, they should be at least about 3 inches apart from one another, but when forcing them indoors, it’s okay if they are very close (even touching). Firmly press down on the soil around each bulb to ensure they are securely planted.

Forcing tulips indoors

Chilling tulips

Chilling tulips is an important step in the process of growing them indoors. Tulip bulbs need to be chilled for 8-12 weeks before they will bloom properly. This period of cold temperatures helps to trigger the growth hormones within the bulb, allowing it to sprout roots and stems when exposed to warmer temperatures.

Chilling tulip bulbs in a refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) is best. Place them on top of some newspaper or paper towels so that moisture doesn’t collect around them, which could cause rot. Be sure not to put any ripening fruit in with your bulbs, as this will give off ethylene gas, which can damage your flowers before they even have a chance to bloom.

If you don’t have access to fridge space, you can also use a container filled with peat moss or potting soil placed outside during winter months. Make sure that the temperature stays below 50°F (10°C) though – anything higher than this may prevent your tulips from producing big blooms later on.

Bulb before planting

Water regularly

Watering your tulips regularly is key to ensuring they stay healthy and vibrant. Moisture should be maintained in the soil, but not to an excessive degree; too much wetness can cause root rot or other issues.

The best way to water your indoor tulips is by using a watering can or hose with a gentle spray setting. Make sure you don’t overwater them. If the soil stays wet and muddy for too long, it can suffocate the bulbs.

Growing tulips indoors
How to grow tulips indoors

Provide adequate light

Tulips need bright, indirect sunlight to grow properly. To provide adequate light for your tulips, place them in an area with plenty of natural light. A south-facing window is ideal as it will get the most sun throughout the day. You can also supplement with a grow light if you don’t have enough natural light available.

Make sure that the tulips are not exposed to direct sunlight during peak hours, or they may become scorched and die off prematurely. It’s best to keep them out of any drafts or extreme temperatures, too, as this could affect their growth and flowering potential. To avoid root harm, keep the containers away from hot spots like heaters or air vents, which could cause soil dehydration.

Finally, rotate your pots every few days so that each side receives equal amounts of sunlight. This will help promote even growth throughout all sides of each flower head, resulting in bigger blooms. Put in a bit of effort, and you can have stunning tulip displays inside your home, regardless of the weather outside.

Tulips indoors at the greenhouse - just sprouting
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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