Forcing Bulbs

Forcing bulbs with floral water beads and Goodwill containers.

One of life’s simple pleasures is upcyling. Saving something from the landfill is a noble effort. Repurposing things from your house or items you find at a secondhand store can be a rewarding experience.

Forcing bulbs is a fun wintertime project that makes use of containers of any shape and size. Gardeners plant bulbs in the late fall before the ground freezes. The plants sprout some roots and then go dormant until the warm weather arrives in spring. You can trick the plants and force them into blooming inside during the winter instead though. These blooms bring a refreshing beauty to the blustery season, and they can provide one of a kind holiday gift items.

This can be an especially affordable project. Garden centers mark down prices late in the season. The Destination Nature team picked up bags of bulbs from less than a $1 each. The best choices include daffodil, crocus, and hyancith. Our containers were $1 or $2 each at the local Goodwill. We had fun experimenting with different containers for our bulbs including an old coffee pot, a watering can, and a glass milk jug. What fun containers can you think of to use?
Instead of soil, we used Water Beads (available in the floral arrangement section of garden centers or craft stores). After soaking in water the sand grain pellets swell up to hydrated marbles. These make watering an especially easy task.

After letting the water beads hydrate, the project was a simple task that took about thirty minutes.


  • Water
  • Water Beads
  • Containers
  • Bulbs
  • Aluminum Foil
  1. Gather all your materials.
  2. Soak water beads for 3 – 4 hours.
  3. Fill you container(s) with water beads.
  4. Place bulbs just below the top surface of the water beads, pointy end up.
  5. Cover the containers with aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator.
  6. Check the water levels every few days. You want to keep the water beads full of fluid.
  7. Depending on the species you’ve planted they’ll need to stay in the cold for a few weeks. An online search will help you determine the timing for each species. (Note you can force paperwhites and amaryllis without a cold period, but most others will need some refrigerator time.)
  8. When the time is right, you’ll remove the bulbs from the refrigerator. The sudden warmth with force them into blooming.

Bring the garden inside this winter. Make your friends and family holiday gifts, and keep yourself a lovely arrangement too.

Stacy is a gardener, birder, and naturalist, and the author of nearly 10 books, including The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book, The Secret Lives of Animals, Project Garden, and 101 Plants You Can't Kill.


  • Reply December 12, 2012


    What a great article. I loved the fact that that you recycled. I have some interesting containers I think I will try. I had never heard of the water beads – another great tip!

  • Reply January 10, 2013

    Jo Self

    Do you suppose it’s too late now to try this? (January 9th)

    • Reply January 17, 2013


      No, go for it. If anything, by the time you’re ready to bring them out, it might be spring. But who doesn’t love blooms anytime?

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