While winter is still a month away, a part of me is thinking of spring. This is the time of the year when I pot up hyacinth bulbs in order to have them bloom in February and March.
You can force almost any spring bulb but I’ve found that hyacinths are the most reliable. They’re easy to plant and when you bring them into the house in late winter, they don’t seem to be as affected by the conditions of a closed, heated house as other bulbs. Plus it’s so nice to have that hyacinth smell fill a room while it’s snowing outside.
To force hyacinths you simple plant the bulbs in a container with potting mix. The bulbs can almost touch each other in the pot and the soil only needs to come up to the tips of the bulbs. I find that three bulbs work well in a 6″ pot. After watering the soil, there is one trick that I’ve learned. Hyacinths have very strong roots. When they’re grown in a pot, the roots will often push the bulb right out of the soil when they begin to grow. To prevent this, I stack the pots 2 or 3 high and then put an empty clay pot on the top of the stack. I leave the pots this way for a few weeks. This allows the roots to grow into the soil and prevents the bulbs from being pushed out the soil.
To force hyacinths, they need a period of cold like they’d receive if they were planted in the garden. You can put the pots outside in a cold frame, bury them in the ground or cover them with leaves or straw. But I’ve found that a styrofoam cooler kept in an unheated garage works great. The pots stay cleaner, no insects get into the soil and the insulation seems to be enough to keep the bulbs from getting too cold. Once the bulbs have rooted, I put them in a cooler and leave them there for 8-10 weeks. During this time I occasionally check them to make sure that the soil is moist, but that’s it.
You can start bringing in the bulbs after this cold treatment when there’s a 1/2″ to 1″ shoot growing from the bulbs. I don’t do anything special with the pots – I just bring them into the house and keep them in the sunniest location I can find. In about a month the hyacinths will be blossoming. For a steady supply of flowers you can bring in a pot ever week or so and you’ll have hyacinths until the start of spring.
After the flowers have died, I keep the pots well watered and when the hyacinths are growing in the garden, I plant the pots of forced hyacinths into the garden as well. They usually come back and blossom the next year.
(A note – if I were really driven I could have these bulbs blooming for Christmas or New Year’s. I’d have to plant them in late August and keep the pots in a refrigerator to provide an artificial cold treatment. While it can be done, it’s too much work for me – February bloom time is soon enough for me.)
Planting hyacinths in November is one of those things that I have to remind myself to do – it’s easily forgotten amidst all the chores of fall clean-up. But in February, I’m always glad that I did it.