Most spring bulbs need to be chilled before you can force them to bloom inside during the winter, but both amaryllis and paperwhites will bloom without chilling the bulbs. They can often be purchased in stores in a kit with either a pot and peat moss or a glass container with decorative rocks or stones.
Growing the kit is easy. Simply place the bulbs (with the pointed end facing upward) in the growing medium, water to moisten the soil and place them in a sunny location. If you are growing them in a decorative container or vase with stones or glass nuggets, put the stones in the bottom of the container and nestle the bulbs into the stones. Add water until it barely touches the bottom of the bulb. Keep the water level below the bulbs. Bulbs that sit in water will rot.
I typically grow my paperwhites in a tall vase and set them in the bottom on the stones. The stems of the paperwhite plants will grow inside the vase holding the blooms above the top of the vase. This provides support for the stems and prevents them from flopping over if they get too tall.
Some bulbs require chilling
Other spring bulbs, like dwarf iris, tulips and larger daffodils can be forced into bloom in the winter, too, but they require chilling first.
If you have a location such as a basement or garage that remains between 40 and 50 degrees, you are in luck. Otherwise you may need to chill your bulbs in the refrigerator — but that can get tricky, too. If you chill your bulbs in the fridge, do not keep fruit in the fridge. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas which will interfere with blooming.
Chilling them outside is pots in another option, but make sure the bulbs do not freeze. Placing them in pots and covering them with leaves or hay or keeping them in an unheated greenhouse until you are ready to force the bulbs will also work.
The length of time for chilling bulbs varies, but 14 to 16 weeks appears to be the average for most bulbs.
If your Christmas cactus is beginning to bloom long before the Christmas season arrives there is probably a good reason for that. While it may look like a Christmas cactus to you, it may actually be a Thanksgiving cactus.
Both belong to the genus Schlumbergera but there are several species of Schlumbergera that are very similar in appearance. Each blooms at a different time giving rise to the common names of Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). A Christmas cactus blooms in December, while a Thanksgiving cactus blooms in late October and November.
Both plants produce showy blooms that range in color from white and yellow to shades of pink, purple and red with a lot of variation in between. These holiday plants brighten dark winter days long after the flowers outside have faded.
There are two simple ways to tell if you have a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus.
If you haven't done so already, now is the time to place your poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) plants in total darkness for 12 to 14 hours a night in order to force blooming. A dark closet or an unused room with no light leaks works well.
Any source of light during the night may prevent your poinsettia from blooming. That applies to light cast from outside sources, like street lights, or stray light from under a door — even the light from a nightlight may be enough to cause an issue with blooming.
Move your poinsettia plant to bright light during the day and return it to darkness at night until the bracts (modified leaves) begin to turn color. This will take several weeks, but should occur in early December. Once they begin to show color you can safely move your poinsettia to the desired location. Bright color will continue to develop.
I just started putting my poinsettia in darkness last night. I have had moderate success in the past because it was difficult to keep it in total darkness in my old home. I tried putting a heavy, black trash bag over it at night, but that didn't really work for me as light always found a way inside. This year my poinsettia will go into a closet with absolutely no light and will not be disturbed until morning.
NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not a danger to small children and pets. Although the sap can cause minor skin irritations and may cause stomach upset if ingested the National Capital Poison Center explains that poinsettias are safe around children and pets, but suggests keeping them out of reach to avoid accidental ingestion and risking upset tummies.