Forced Bulbs: What to Keep, What to Toss

HERE’S A DILEMMA YOU MIGHT BE FACING — What to do with the hyacinths, tulips, and other bulbs you forced for indoor winter-bloom.ย  In truth, some of these bulbs are worth keeping for future enjoyment outdoors. Others, not so much. Here’s how I determine the fate of my own, myriad forced bulbs, and how I care for the keepers:

What I toss:

Bulbs forced in water. This may sound heartless to you, but I do not keep bulbs which were forced in water (including my vased ‘Blue Jacket’ hyacinths, above). Why? Because water-forcing zaps most of their strength, and consequently increases the odds that they will never bloom again. (Ditto for bulbs which were forced in pebbles and water.)

Tender (tropical) bulbs. I toss my tropical Narcissi, too. These are hardy only in zones 8-10. I live in (frosty) zone 5-b. Still, because of the gorgeous color and scent they bring to my window garden, I don’t mind buying the bulbs year after year.ย  Pictured above is the sweetly-perfumed ‘Winter Sun’ — my favorite among the tropical narcissus clan.

What I keep:

In my experience, Dutch bulbs — if they were forced in soil — can have a fine future in the garden outdoors. Dutch bulbs include crocuses, like the ‘Golden Yellow’ variety that bloomed in my bathroom window one February…

And tulips (that’s ‘Sunny Prince’ above, a remarkably-fragrant variety)…

And hyacinths, with their legendary scent…

And the tiny, blue Puschkinia, which blooms in my Music Room window each February, and beneath a crabapple tree each April…

And all kinds of cold-hardy daffodils, including the heavenly-scented Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ pictured above.

To make these bulbs worth saving, it’s essential to care for them after their blossoms fade. Cut off the dead flowering stalks, but do not remove the green foliage. Foliage is necessary for photosynthesis — the conversion of sunlight into sugar. Provide full sun, cool temperatures (65 degrees maximum), and plentiful food and water.

After several weeks have passed, yellowing foliage will signal the bulb is ready for a rest. Withhold all food and water.

And by the way, a tulip with yellowing leaves is not an attractive sight in a window garden. I let my bulbs ripen their foliage under a fluorescent light unit in my kitchen.ย  Mercifully, my kitchen is not on “public” view.

Once the soil has dried out, cut off the withered foliage. Then remove the bulbs,ย  and place them in a paper sack filled with sand, sawdust, or some other dry medium. Or, do what I sometimes do, and let the bulbs remain in their pots. Transfer the bag or the pot to a cool, dark, and dry location for the remainder of spring and summer.

Be sure to label the bags or pots. There is nothing worse than finding bags or pots of bulbs in the fall, and not having a clue as to their variety or color.

Well, I don’t like surprises.

In autumn, plant the bulbs in some sunny location outdoors. There, within two years time, they will flower as freely as though they had never been seen in a window garden.

Was this tutorial useful to you? Perhaps you can let me know by leaving a comment.

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Related Posts:
How I Force Tulips for Winter Bloom
How to Force Hyacinths in Bulb Vases
Fragrant Narcissus ‘Winter Sun’


  1. I was just searching the internet for this very topic!! When I couldn’t find it I remembered your website and thought you would definitely have some article on this. Thank you very much!

  2. Rinnie – Welcome. So glad this article came to you at a crucial moment!

  3. Question: what is a good light bulb , type and potency, for houses plants and flowers. I love in the same climate zone as you and find that the natural light I’d not enough.

  4. Hi Kelly – I use ordinary, “cool white” fluorescents. You can find these at any hardware store. African violets, geraniums, and other flowering plants thrive beneath the “artificial sunlight” the fluorescent tubes afford. The lights are really cheap, too — about $4.00 for a pair.

  5. You know, I had wondered if it was worth trying to save my water + pebble forced hyacinths…
    Maybe I’ll just give it a shot – let them dry out and sit quietly in my basement and plant them in the fall? Worth a shot! >D
    [I have never successfully forced before, so this was a good year for me! Hehe…]

    very very useful information here for me! Gotta try some fragrant bloomers next year… ohohoho!

  6. I was just wondering about my tulip bulbs this morning. I forced them in water, but I’ll know better next year!

  7. Great info…Thanks for the post! I have some tulip bulbs right now that I was going to plant…now I know!

  8. What a lovely set of pictures, and I could just smell the sweet scents of your window garden, Kevin. How fun. You can bet I’ll be forcing some hyacinth next year in MY garden window.

  9. Great info. Yesterday I went looking for tulip and daffodil bulbs to plant, but couldn’t find any. And the stores couldn’t even tell me if they had seen any yet, and figured they just haven’t come in yet. I told them “But the ones that I have already are 5 inches up out of the ground!” So I started to consider buying the ones they get in that have already bloomed and plant them in my front yard – whenever it is they come in to the store. So my question is….Will these stay alive and will they produce next year?

  10. Hi Joelle – Tulips and daffs are usually only available September-December (they are autumn-planted bulbs). If you buy already-forced bulbs now, my advice is to feed and water the heck out of them until the foliage naturally withers (as described in the article above). Then plant them out in September or October. If they don’t bloom for you the first spring, don’t despair. They are merely convalescing, and will bloom the the following year.

  11. Sheri Rice says:

    Great article! super useful and very timely, Kevin, thanks for taking a complicated topic and making it very easy to understand. I’m curious, do you ever fertilize after forcing? Would that help these depleted bulbs bounce back?

  12. I have a house full of bulbs that I had forced last winter, stuck outside in the pots for spring and summer, then topped off with compost before cold-treating them again. The daffodils sent up lots of foliage and quite a few blooms. The muscari bloomed like crazy (still at it!) and the hyacinths did well too. The tulips didn’t show but I suspect the bulbs were eaten by some enterprising little rodents over the course of the summer. I think the level of success I did have was due to a late start pulling them out of the cold last year…they were blooming only slightly ahead of the outside bulbs. That and the hard to kill nature of the grape hyacinths! This year I’ll get them in the ground and start some fresh new bulbs for forcing in the fall.

  13. badger gardener says:

    Happy Spring!! We are ushering in the season w/ -1 wind chills and are still snow covered. But some signs of spring cannot be stopped. The geese are arriving and the maple trees are showing buds. It shall not be long now and I cannot wait to see some life popping up from the ground. Hope you enjoy the vernal equinox today : )

  14. Sheri Rice – I’ve tried feeding my water-forced hyacinths, and they still refused to grow (let alone flower!) after being planted out in the garden. You might have better success than me. On the hand, all of my soil-forced Dutch bulbs — which I feed regularly after flowering, as described above — have had productive careers outdoors.

    Honor – Congratulations on a job well done! Letting the potted bulbs ripen their foliage outdoors is a big, big, plus.

    Badger gardener – Happy spring to you, too. Same (dreadful) weather here. But the robins have arrived — one is pecking at my ice-cloaked crabapple tree as I write this — what a comforting sight!

  15. Great tutorial; especially helpful to sort out the differences in ways of forcing bulbs.
    I have a question. I did not get around to replanting the tulip bulbs I pulled up this time last year, 2012. Should I throw them out? Should I plant them this fall? Should I plant them now?
    Now I have to go to my kitchen and make a couple of your recipes!
    Thanks so much.

  16. Hi Judith – If the bulbs are still plump and firm, I’d go ahead and plant them. And remember: no expectations, no regrets!

  17. Henrietta says:

    Over the years my puschinias have greatly increased outdoors I am wondering if I could take some of these bulbs from the yard and force them to bloom indoors.

  18. Hi Henrietta – You can absolutely dig up some of your puschkinia and force it for indoor bloom. Have fun!

  19. Kevin, this is exactly the information I’ve wondered about. Thanks so much for posting!

  20. I love your ideas!!!

  21. I used to work in a flower shop and would take home all the pots of forced bulbs that had ‘gone over’ and were not saleable. However, I used to plant them outside in the spring as soon as the ground was workable. If I waited to the fall, I could never remember where the holes were, and would always end up spearing some bulbs.

  22. Louise Brouillette says:

    Kevin, I’ve planted my water-forced narcissus, and they bloom. It may take a couple of years, but eventually they produce year after year. I just figure, heck, why not give it a shot and plant them? Thank you for the good information and for another view into your lovely home.

  23. Interesting. I was told that no forced bulbs would ever grow or flower again if planted outdoors. A couple years ago, I was given a pot of gorgeous white tulips for my springtime birthday. Wish I had known this then…they’d be out in my yard right now instead of thrown away. Ah well. Forcing bulbs is on my list for next winter. Good to know that they aren’t necessarily one hit wonders.

  24. So what if I plant them outside right away in the spring and let the leaves die off there? I know the hyacinths do well this way.

  25. Louise – Great to know that you’ve had success with water-forced narcissus.

    Karin W. – If the weather is “spring-like” where you are, you can indeed let your forced bulbs ripen outdoors.

  26. Trudi Dido says:

    good information ..Thanks . I’l; give my hyacinths a chance to come back. I was planning of tossing them ..but now I won’

  27. One of the local stores have the most gorgeous pots of spring flowers that I buy for very little and once they’re past their glory, I do as a few others do.. I plant the whole ball of wax in my perennial garden once I can get outdoors in the spring.. Most come back beautifully.. Some of the hyacinth are wimpy for the next year or two but they eventually made a great showing.

    I buy my bulbs from americanmeadows dot com every year.. They have the biggest and best bulbs I’ve ever bought & on top of that, they often have 50% off sales or B1G1 that make their bulbs some of the best priced out there.. I highly recommend them if anyone is looking for a great place to get just about any variety of bulbs, spring or fall. Just wait for the sale. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing your expertise Kevin.. I always look forward to your posts.. While I consider myself a fairly decent outdoor gardener, indoors, Im really mostly a hack that has just been very lucky, me thinks. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  28. Deborah Kilbourn can empathize with the squirrels. They also forget where they buried the bulbs. Sometimes that is to my advantage; my bulbs travel all around my garden with no work on my part, thanks to the beasties. They even planted a Paulonia tree for me.

  29. I was just wondering about this yesterday! Thank you for answering my question ๐Ÿ™‚ Although, I was hoping I would be able to reuse the bulbs for indoor blooming. I had bought potted tulip and hyacinth just pre-bloom from a store and am enjoying their company, but it sounds like they are destined to decorate the outside of the house in a few years. Thanks again for your perfectly timed advice.

  30. Thank you so much for this information. I’ve never known what to do with bulbs so stayed away from them even though I love their flowers. This has been a great help!

  31. Clarice Lofgran says:

    This article is very timely! I have tulips that bloomed in water and have been wondering what to do with them. So I guess I might as well just toss them. I’d hate to put them in the ground and watch and wait! I had planned to plant them outdoors but, sad to say, sometimes it is better to start fresh!

  32. Hi Kevin,
    what about little baby bulbs that are growing from the mother bulks in water ?
    Could they just continue to grow and feed from the mother bulb and be viable bulbs
    to plant next year ?

  33. I have had amaryllis given to me almost every year. I put them outside in about April,
    (Zone 8) and they produce lovely foliage but no flowers. I brought them in this year and they bloomed . Next year I will bring them in sooner to get them blooming by Christmas.

    I was given a Star of Bethlehem this Christmas and will put it out as well. No info about sun needs. Full sun like most others??

    Love this site and your expertise. I use a lot of the information.

  34. Ooops that would be Zone 8 !!

  35. Just enjoyed a summer dinner special thanks to your tip on freezing yellow squash. Love it.
    Now making zucchini bread for Easter week- end from the same hint.

  36. dana-dxb says:

    so uesfull and i wish id non this erlear but still its a good refrince thanx a bunch

  37. Kristin Smith says:

    Your caring for keeper bulbs tutorial was very helpful. You are a good teacher, pleasant, encouraging and informative. I appreciate knowing for instance that some flowers need the freeze and thaw action to get going. As a violin teacher my goal is to help people approach what they expect will be difficult with a cheerful confidence, armed with information. That is just what you are doing for me in areas where I’m a bit afraid.

  38. Hi Kevin —

    What would you do with paper whites? Thanks much!


  39. cynthia turpin-friday says:

    thank you for that great info,I have planted some bulbs that I received for Easter a year or so ago not knowing if they will grow in my garden.Now I am sure to look for them sprouting up this spring

  40. I want to plant bulbs and put mulch down and I “HATE” using the black plastic. I’m afraid bulbs won’t come up. Can I cover with mulch & how much mulch to keep weeds out but let bulbs thru?

  41. Rachel Burger – Paperwhites are tropical narcissi. Because the bulbs are not hardy in my zone, I toss them after their flowers fade. If paperwhites are hardy where you live, then by all means plant them out.

    Jan Holmes – For a weed-barrier, I use newspaper instead of black plastic (details here). Easy enough to plunge a trowel through the paper at planting-time. How thick a mulch depends upon the kind of bulb you are planting. I’d use a 2-inch layer of shredded mulch for major (large) bulbs; and less for minor (small) bulbs.

  42. Enid Albat says:

    Since you mentioned shredded paper, I just ordered a shredder for leaves and small twigs to try and speed up my composting. Do you think such a shredder could work with newspaper and hay or do I need separate shredders for each item?

  43. Hi Enid – I did not mean that you should shred the newspaper. The mulch that you place atop the paper should be a shredded-type (as opposed to a chunky, bark-type).

  44. David Deutsch says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I have always wondered how this worked. You made it so simple.

  45. Janet Livesay says:

    What to do with some gorgeous Amaryllis bulbs?
    They bore 4 huge blooms and are now lying on their side outdoors here in Oregon.
    How to get them ready to bloom again for Christmas?
    I ordered them from Van Engelen.

  46. Ann Honer says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I have taken your advice and started several seeds in milk bottles. What I want to know is how do you know when to transplant them? Do you transplant them straight into the garden and also, do you thin them out whilst they are still in the bottles?
    I live in Illinois, which I think is zone 5.
    Thanks in advance,
    Ann Honer

  47. Janet – Here’s my Amaryllis How-To.

    Ann – Here’s my guide to Transplanting Winter-Sown Seedlings.

  48. Yes, very useful information, thank you! I had very good luck with forcing bulbs indoors this winter. Generally, I just toss the forced bulbs into the compost. I’m experimenting with the paper-whites, keeping them watered and fertilized until the foliage dies, to see whether I’ll be able to get anything out of them next year. I have my doubts, but weirder things have happened!

    I’m happy to have found your site. I live in NE Pennsylvania, near Scranton, so our climates are similar.

  49. Kevin,you wrote a tutorial for making shelves,glass ,for the window.I would very much like to make one,(limited carpentry skills) .African violets seem to do well in my north facing kitchen window,thus the shelves.Have you ever tried freesias? thank you,Jeanne

  50. Hi Jeanne – I’ve forced freesia many, many times. Love it! Here’s my freesia forcing guide:

  51. Perfect. I followed your suggestions and had a house full of blooms this February and can looking for what to do next. I knew I could count on you!


  52. Excellent information. Just what I was looking for. My husband bought me some forced Tulip’s for Valentines Day and they were Beautiful. However, they were forced in water and I didn’t know what to do with them this Spring. I am a little disappointed that you recommend in throwing them out. But, I certainly don’t want to waste my time if they’re not going to bloom in the yard. So thanks for the info and I look forward to receiving your newsletter. I am an avid gardener, it’s my Therapy.

  53. We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community.

    Your site provided us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed an impressive task
    and our entire community will be thankful to you.

  54. Thank you for this informative post. We have just moved into a house and now I have a yard once again after a few years of doing without. I bought bulbs last week with the intention of forcing the narcissus ones. It’s been a while since I have had dirt to play in, and your post was well timed and motivating. Great tutorial!

  55. Suzanne Rowe says:

    The information is very helpful! Thank you

  56. ingmarie peck says:

    Great info , thanks Kevin.

  57. Donna King says:

    I have always loved plants and flowers, inside and out, but my gardening has been so very hit and miss. I don’t really know what I’m doing and I find most sites overwhelming with SO much information in a single post.

    I found your post informative, with down to earth information and advice. And for the first time I feel like I can tackle forcing bulbs indoors and then have some idea of which ones I should plant again outside. The addition of pictures and types was the perfect addition and even how to prepare them so that they will be successful when planted outside.

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing so many wonderfully useful tips without overwhelming me with technical jargon about pH and soil blends and “feeding” rituals. I realize those things are necessary for success, but too much at once is like sitting down to a dinner with 6 meat dishes and 15 sides … delicious, but overwhelming!

    Thank you again … love your site and love your emails!

  58. Ms Rutherford says:


    You blow my mind! When I think that there are no longer any magical moments in this world of ours – I recall your beautiful, healthy, compassionate, and loving home; and all that you do. Thank you for sharing such beauty with the world.

    When I read above about “tossing bulbs” I must say I developed a lump in my throat. I am creating Natasha’s Memorial Garden here on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I have a strong propensity for not throwing anything away…even if it looks “gone.” Please send me your tossed bulbs and I shall plant them in an area of The Garden (Kevin’s Garden) and allow them to grow naturally, whatever shall, for the next, say, thirty years! I shall send you a picture every year!

    I do not use any fertilizer or other commercial “stuff,” but I am a composting fool! ๐Ÿ™‚

  59. Marianne Sievers says:

    Thank you for linking to this article again – I thought I remembered you doing a piece on forced bulbs, but wasn’t able to find it amidst my bookmarks!

  60. Karen Clark says:

    Kevin have loved reading all your articles. Have you ever forced bearded Iris’s? I have some bulbs that I did not get out last fall, but want to keep. Can you help?

  61. Good Morning Kevin,

    I enjoyed your articles over the years. Because of you I had a 4′ x 8′ raised bed built several years ago. Its raised 2 feet above ground, so I don’t have to get down on my hands and knees, I use your newspaper idea to keep the weeds out of the garden. I let my garden rest last summer with just large sunflowers growing. This year I will go back to my veggies and Tomatoes, I use large concret planters to grow my herbs, lemon and lime trees , so you could say I have a well rounded garden. I live in the area of San Francisco, so the weather in nice most of the year. Over the years, 24, since buying my home, I have planted 4 fruit trees and 1 avocado tree. I really enjoy my early mornings in the yards, and summers eatting my bounty. Keep up the good work of sharing with everyone, you have helped me a lot with your articles. Stay warm and enjoy your window gardens. Marian

  62. Bulbs are my favorite plants. Thanks for sharing. I’ve had a few fails over the years on saving bulbs after blooming. Thanks again for all the valuable information you give us.

  63. Sue Ott says:

    Thanks, Kevin! Just what I needed to know. Next year pots and soil!

  64. Great post! I have some store bought tulips i would like to try to save/reuse.

  65. Genius! Wondered on the subject for years. Thanks for helping alleviate my guilt for the throw-always and sharing options for keepers!

  66. Thanks so much! Just the information I was looking for.

  67. I’ve enjoyed my forced narcissus so much this year but they are almost done, just a stray flower here and there amongst the crinkly ones. I planted some in the yard about 5 years ago and only this year did I get one flowering stem. After planting them I read that they probably wouldn’t flower again so it was a nice surprise. Now after reading your post, I know why (but it still kinda hurts to think about trashing them!) Your post was very informative with inspiring pictures, thanks. I’ll explore your website more laterโ€ฆ.

  68. Kevin – I followed your instructions to start tropical narcissus bulbs before Christmas in pebbles and water. They sprouted and grew about 2 inches, then totally stopped growing. Not dying, just doing nothing! What can I do??

  69. I live in central Florida. Can I plant bulbs outside and just leave them in the soil all year or do they need to be dug up each year??

  70. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    The contrast of foliage textures in your windows makes the observer’s eye pleasurably wander ’round and ’round. It’s such a welcome shot of green when the back yard view affords only blinding white.

    Two days ago I tossed my paper whites. I have SO much plant material, but I still felt bad about those spent bulbs thudding into the trash can. I need to learn to be more pragmatic. Your post is very timely.

  71. Dear Kevin,
    I love your pictures of my favorite flowers! Unfortunately (for this flowers only, not for me!) I live in sunny Florida where it is hard to achieve anything below 75 F. Somebody recommended the bottom drawer of the fridge, what do you think?

  72. Joanne Toft says:

    Thanks – this was helpful. After a kitchen remodel I tucked my build vases away and completely forgot them. Your photos reminded me to go find them so I am ready for next winter. This fall there was to much put door planting to worry about inside color. Love the glass shelves in your window. I like the extra level for growing plants.

  73. So curious about your window shelving. You’re certainly an inspiration to the soul with your love of everything beautiful and your indoor winter gardens are just amazing.
    I’m believing that would be the solution for the winter blues having all those wonderfully scented bulbs flowering around the house.

  74. Hi Sheila – You can read all about the glass shelving in this post o’ mine: Steps to a Window Garden.

  75. Ingmarie E Peck says:

    Thanks, great info,very helpful indeed.
    I will get more bulbs now when I know how and what.

  76. Thanks for such great information , you gave me the push I needed to try again.

  77. Kevin Do you take your own photography? It’s outstanding.

  78. Hi Pat – Yes, I’m responsible for all the food and garden photos on this site. Thanks for asking!

  79. Wow KEVIN, you sure are a jack of all trades’s. And you do everything beautifully your recipes are yummy the gardens are glorious and your photos outstanding. What can’t you do?
    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading it especially Sunday mornings.

  80. Hi Kevin, Someone gave me potted Rose Tulips last Easter and I planted them outside under a tree in the fall. Should I not expect any blooms then this first year? Thanks for sharing all your tips.

  81. Hi Kevin Thank you for the great Article You are so kind to share you Talent with us, I love to read your blog I love flowers , Thank you again enjoy your week…. Joanie

  82. Georgia Fuentes says:

    Your web site with all of the information is wonderful. Your beautiful flowers are amazing too. Thank you. I’m in Northern CA.

  83. Hi Kevin, This is a great post – thank you! I didn’t force any bulbs this year but I learned a lot from your post and really appreciate your well-informed, practical approach. I used to live in upstate NY so it’s fun to read how you get through the winter with lots of indoor “bloom-time.”

    I’m in No California now and spent this lovely, sunny day planting a bunch of yellow primroses, all in full-bloom – a real “sparkler” to perk up this time of year after the gray, raining days we’ve had. (We need the rain – no complaints!) They’ll keep blooming into summer until it gets too hot here.

    So are you working on your garden book? (I’m trying hard not to look at your Cabernet Sauvignon Chocolate Cake recipe since I just started WeightWatchers. Well …. maybe just a peak! But I’m sure the garden book would interest your readers equally as much as the cookbook so, do them both?)

  84. The cakes looked wonderful, but I’m off sweets. However, I love the flowers and can hardly wait until the flowers will be coming up outside. You were mentioning the wine that you used in the cakes, Well, to really help the taste you could pour it through this unit. It not only helps the taste of food but you will have the BEST water and other drinks, AND it will help your plants and flowers. Please go to (copy and paste) YOU and ALL guests on the page will love it. There are so MANY uses for it. Love your emails. Lois

  85. I know I’m a couple years late to this, but thanks for the info. Succinct and perfect.

  86. Thanks Kevin! I googled my dilemma before but your blog didn’t show up. This is more explanatory, specific and complete than what I found online before. I was so happy for those 3 bulbs being only $4.99 I might try and get another dark one I saw that looked like maybe your beautiful blues

  87. Lorraine says:

    Thank you for the useful information and beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us. I have some tulips from last Valentines day that were forced and have long sonce passed. I read instructions from another source and let them dry out, cut off the old foliage , and left just an inch or less of stalk sticking out of the soil…and left them on my counter, forgetting them. Now, part of the kitchen counter display, I decided I better re-read some instructions.
    They have dried out well but at warmer than ideal temparatures, so I will now move them to our dark, cool basement tool room until fall and will try planting then. Nothing to loose but 10 minutes of time next autumn.
    Thanks again!

  88. My church gave me all the bulb plants after the had dried out. They are hoping I can use them next year or in the future. I read ur article, but wasn’t sure that since they are dry if it’s too late. Hope you can help.

  89. Sylvia Gould says:

    You say keep the still green foliage in full sun, max 65 degrees. I have no idea how to do this. I don’t live in a cold climate-when we’re in full sun we can get up to 100 degrees. Any alternatives? Sylvia G.

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