Forcing Hyacinths for Winter Bloom

September 19, 2012

WHY WAIT until April to inhale the intoxicating air of hyacinths? Pot a few in early autumn, and then you can enjoy them — just as I do — when January blizzards blow. Bulbs can be forced in soil, in pebbles and water, or in special vases. I favor the vases because they are small enough to fit in narrow quarters, like the latch ledge of my parlor window (above).  How to coax the bulbs into early bloom:

It’s easy to force a hyacinth in a bulb vase. In early autumn, fill the vase with water, and add a piece of aquarium charcoal, if you wish, to keep it sweet. When the bulb is in place (pointed tip up), the water should just touch the bulb’s basal plate. The basal plate is the flat bottom of a bulb, from where roots emerge.

Like all Dutch bulbs, a hyacinth grown in a vase needs to make its roots in a cold, dark place. I find that a shelf in my spare refrigerator works very well, providing fresh fruit is kept out. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can sterilize bulbs.

What’s that? You don’t have a spare refrigerator? Then perhaps you can find  another dark, cold (35-45 degrees) place for your bulbs. The cellar, attic, unheated guestroom or barely-heated garage or enclosed porch might be bulb-storage possibilities for you.

As roots grow, top off the vases with more water as necessary.

After twelve weeks have passed, bring the hyacinth to a light, cool location. Then, when a flower stalk emerges, set the vase in a sunny but cool window. At this time, temperatures between 55F-65F are best.

To encourage sturdy, upright growth, give the vase a quarter-turn every other day. Or, arrange several vases on the latch ledge of a window. As the flower stalk leans toward the light, the window glass will keep it from toppling over.

Hyacinths are fun to display.  One winter,  I arranged a “Spring Portrait” (pictured above) before a window in my parlor. Plant stand, bottom shelf: Lavender and white Primula obconica. Top shelf: pink Begonia semperflorens and forced branches of forsythia. Window ledge: ‘Blue Jacket’ hyacinths, forced in small, amethyst-colored vases.    .

Well, I hope you’ll consider forcing a few hyacinth bulbs for indoor winter enjoyment. You’ll be happy to have the color and perfume they offer when the snow falls in January.

Questions? Talk to me in the comments field below. As always, I love to hear from you.

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Related Posts:
How To Design a Window Garden
Hardy Bulbs for Winter Windows
Dutch Bulbs for Winter Windows

Comments

  1. Donna B. says:

    Kevin, That “Spring Portrait” is just gorgeous!
    I’ve been sorely unsuccessful with forcing. I still have yet to keep an amarylis to bloom two years in a row. Fingers crossed!
    Maybe this year I’ll try to be more proactive and do it right this time!

  2. Hi Donna B. – Glad you like the spring scene above. As for amaryllis, they need copious food and water during the summer holiday. The bulbs use the nourishment to form an embryo flower for the following season. I feed mine with every watering during summer, at the rate of 1/4 tsp per gallon water. Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  3. Donna B. says:

    Kevin; Fertilizing… Yeep, well that’s something I haven’t done much of at all… I did sprinkle some bone meal into the top layer of potting mix when I put it outside after the bloom died back. The bulb is nice and big – it’s actually bigger than it was last year! So maybe that’s a good sign? I need to bring it inside though.. we’ve been having some COOOLD mornings! I love it! :D

  4. badger gardener says:

    I didn’t know you could force bulbs in just water, no soil. Would the vase have to be hour-glass shaped to hold the bulb up and give the roots room? We have our community rummage sale at the school this weekend. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find some vases that shape.

  5. badger gardener – Bulb vases, or “hyacinth glasses” feature a cup at the top to support the bulb. Sometimes you can find these Victorian inventions at rummage sales. I’ve seen them at “juntique” shops, too. My amethyst-colored vases were ordered from a local decorator store; I found the clear-glass vases at a local florist’s shop. The vases are fun to collect!

  6. Lynn says:

    Hi Kevin, I picked up 6 white Hyacinth bulbs yesterday. I also bought 6 plastic stemmed narrow wine glasses and a bag of aqua blue aquaium glass beads. Hopefully that will be enough weight to keep them all upright. But I will put all 6 bulbs in a galss bowl with the glass beads under them to put in the beer fridge outside for three months and seperate them later, no room for all the glasses. If anything here sounds wrong, would appreciate a reply from you. Will take pics and post them on your F.B. when i have blooms Happy Canadian ThanksGiving to you and all your memebers ! Cheers Dears ! :)

  7. Hi Lynn – I should think that 6 white hyacinths in a bowl of glass beads would be a sight to behold! You may not need the stemmed wine glasses at all — probably the bulbs will be nice and secure as their roots grow into the beads. Just keep water in the bowl. Looking forward to seeing pix on FB.

  8. Foul Woman with a few goats says:

    I couldn’t find vases like yours but I found some that the tops were bigger on. I added stones to the bottom so my bulbs set up and were not so low inside the vase. Didn’t want to spend a lot of money and needed 1 more so I used a votive shade from home interior and set it in a coffee cup with gravel to stabilize it. It looks very attractive. Thanks for all of your ideas and taking the time to post them. I try to read all. I think my husband, Ray, is getting tired of me saying, “Kevin says”. LOL

  9. wholesale costume to already tell that this

  10. Lynn says:

    Do you need to use any fertilizer when grown in water? The flower stalks are forming now.

  11. Emma Garcia says:

    How long are hyacinths suppose to last once they’ve started to bloom..I have one and doesn’t seem to have lasted very long..I have another they blooms are just starting to peek out, but it’s leaning a lot, I almost want to fix it, but what can I do to straighten it up, and also should it get alot of water, I have them in soil? Thank you in advance!
    Emma

  12. Hi Emma Garcia – In a not-too-warm room (65 degrees maximum), hyacinths will last for about 2 weeks. Give the pot a quarter turn every day to keep the flowers from leaning toward the light. (If the bulbs were planted in a too-soft potting mixture, they might lean anyway, because their roots are not secure.) Definitely provide plentiful water. Provide food, too, if you intend to save the bulbs for future planting outdoors.

  13. Cajun Sue says:

    I have just forced my first hyacinth in a bulb vase and was thoroughly pleased! Now that it has died back, I need to know how to store the bulb with all its long white roots. I have another one started, so look forward to the beauty of these flowering bulbs! Thank you for your help.

  14. Ann P says:

    After it blooms will it bloom again? What do I do?

  15. Hi Ann P and Cajun Sue – If forced in water, Dutch bulbs (like hyacinths) are not likely to bloom again, even if you let the foliage remain until it withers away naturally. Water forcing is hard on them, and seems to zap all their flower-producing energy. Dutch bulbs forced in soil, however, can definitely have a future in the garden outdoors.

  16. Greg says:

    How many months will bulbs remain viable when kept dry & refrigerated? I wanted to start forcing just one per week and have flowers for as long possible. What would be the optimal temperature for this?

  17. Hi Greg – Bulbs I refrigerated for 12 months and then tried to force did not perform at all. But I suspect you can keep yours going for another month or two. Spring is their natural bloom time — if denied the opportunity, I think they “close shop.”

  18. Scott Trudell says:

    Hi Kevin… I have discovered… To my delight… An even easier way to force hyacinths. Simply put the bulbs in a paper bag and stash them in the fridge for 10-12 weeks. Then, when you are ready to force them, take them out and pot them up in potting mix… Or put them in a glass forcing jar. I then put them in a dark, cool place for a couple weeks while the roots grow out… I use a shelf in my basement. After that, a sunny window to bloom. I found the “bag method” in Brent and Becky’s fall catalog a few years back and have been using it successfully ever since.

  19. Just a heads up — after I don’t know how many years of never having an issue, I suddenly became dreadfully sensitive to hyacinth bulbs — after handling them and touching my neck, it felt as if I’d been stung by bees there. Swelling, rash, the whole shebang. And based on google, this is not an uncommon problem. So you might consider wearing gloves and being a little careful while handling them and anything they come in contact with — I think it’s the skin of the bulbs, not the foliage or flowers, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to test that theory.

  20. Hi Scott – I have a quasi-scientific experiment in my fridge just now. It involves tulip bulbs. I potted some, and let others remain in a paper sack. By mid-January I’ll be able to determine which bloom first — the bulbs which were allowed to make their roots early on (as in nature), or those which were chilled first, and then potted. If both bloom equally-well, and at the same time, you can bet I’ll use the chill-in-a-bag method exclusively from here on!

  21. Julie B says:

    Sandy H. – Hyacinths are notorious for causing skin irritation. I don’t recall if it’s the bulbs themselves or something with which they’re treated. The stalks, leaves and flowers should not cause a problem but the bulbs frequently do.

  22. joan lee says:

    Kevin,
    I feel like we may be neighbors since I am in Zone 5.

    I JUST WANTED TO THANK you for posting that fantastic formula for cleaning windows and picture glass.
    45%water, 45% rubbing alcohal and 10% ammonia.
    I’ve been using on my storm windows and discovered it cleans the sides of my trailer beautifully. Takes out dripping from roof and green algae. Fantastic!

  23. Lisa L says:

    Kevin:
    I just happened to be surfing the web one day, and clicked on your website (now I subscribe). You are amazing. Your website is amazing! Thank you for all your tips, tours, and tidbits! I truly enjoy all your posts, and getting caught up on the things I missed. Thank you for brightening each day!

  24. Anne says:

    Thanks Sandy! I stopped by a local store yesterday to pick up some hyacinth bulbs because I was inspired by this site to have some color for Christmas. Before I was even out of the store my neck and face were incredibly itchy. I assumed it was a chemical in the store. Came home and took some Benadryl. Sounds like it could have been the bulbs. Maybe I will just grab some gloves and stick them in the ground and pick up something else for forcing!

  25. Dee Nash says:

    Great information and beautiful photos. I’m also forcing bulbs this year and the last few. Lovely. Thank you much.~~Dee

  26. Haley says:

    When moving my plant into a new vase some of the stems broke
    Off… Will this hinder it’s growth?

  27. cheryl says:

    We received mums, hyacinth, and cypress potted plants. Friends presented, hoping we will be able to plant outdoors in spring, to honor my father’s wonderful life. Wondering if cooler basement/limited light would be better conditions than better light/heated Wisconsin home. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks.

  28. Ann of Pa says:

    I was thinking of trying this and while looking for bulb vases saw a pic of yours on Etsy. Bet you didn’t know your plants were looking for a new home! ha

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/188551425/single-hyacinth-flower-bulb-in-forcing?utm_source=google&utm_medium=product_listing_promoted&utm_campaign=plants_and_edibles-plant-flower-mid&gclid=CM3dwZymoMECFeHm7AodpEEARQ

  29. Hi Ann of Pa — Glad you sent this link. Etsy is using my photograph without permission. I just sent them a note.

  30. Debbie says:

    I have had excellent luck just filling a bag with the bulbs in the fridge. After 10 to 12 weeks, every week, I put a couple in the vases with water and have a more or less constant supply of blooms (until I run out).

  31. Trudi Dido says:

    Gorgeous plant portrait I don’t think i can find a cool enough place in my house to force the critters, but I will try . It does get cold in Ga and oddly enough the people in the house want it warm inside!

  32. Belinda says:

    I have just been thinking this week about the seeds I’m going to order for this winter’s milk jug greenhouses (What a hugely successful project that was for me!) and I was already planning for the new row of boxwoods I’m going to start from cuttings. Now you’re telling me I can use my garage to get some bulbs going. Why didn’t I think of that? t really appreciate the knowledge you share so freely, Kevin.

  33. Ann says:

    Do you ever have hyacinth bulbs that just don’t get growing and they stay in a bulb like state and never bloom? I get mine every year from a reliable source and when I buy them I can see the tip of the flower stalk, it’s usually white or yellowish green.. I buy them, pot them up and keep them in a spare fridge or hyacinth vase and if I did this with say 25 bulbs, I bet I would have at least 5-6 that would never bloom…for the same reason, I only buy amaryllis bulbs where I can see the big bud… Some that have not emerged from the base don’t ever… Any thoughts? Thanks!

  34. Kath says:

    Beautiful window garden! how do you open the window?

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