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How to Force Bulbs in Water

Forcing bulbs is fairly easy to do 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 plant the bulbs in some soil instead. Some people prefer to have bulbs growing in water though, because of the unique appearance.

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These are paperwhites (narcissus tazetta) nestled and snuggling in a glass vase specifically designed for forcing bulbs. 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 like this, just throw some stones in the bottom of a vase and you have the same basic idea. Careful putting the stones in the glass vase, so you don't break the glass!

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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 of the bulb is facing 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.

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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. When you first start bulbs in water, 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.

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Update 1 week later. This is just the first of the paperwhite bulbs to bloom. There are two flower stalks on this bulb with lots of pretty white flowers.

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Forcing Bulbs In Soil

If you are new to forcing bulbs, you can always try to force them in soil first, which is easier and less prone to mistakes or killing the plants. Click on the link above to learn more!