How to Force Hyacinths in Soil and Water
Each February fragrant hyacinth flowers awaken on my dining room table while the garden sleeps beneath a blanket of snow. How can this spring floral display be accomplished in the dead of winter? By forcing hyacinth bulbs to bloom ahead of their natural schedule right from the comfort of my home!
Forcing bulbs sounds like a complicated and confusing affair, but it’s easy and straightforward. Simply give a bulb its necessary chilling period and then allow it to bloom inside, earlier than it would outside. That’s forcing in a nutshell.
Each type of bulb requires a different chilling period in order to flower properly. Hyacinth bulbs need a chilling period of 13-14 weeks at 40-45° F. You can always chill a bulb longer than necessary, just not shorter because then they will fail to flower properly.
How to Pre-Chill Hyacinth Bulbs
The crisper drawer of your refrigerator is the ideal place to pre-chill bulbs. Place your hyacinth bulbs into a brown paper bag labeled with the date. Then place the bag into the refrigerator crisper drawer. Avoid placing the bulbs in the same drawer as fruit such as apples and pears. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can kill the flower inside the bulb. Allow the bulbs to chill in your refrigerator for a minimum of 13-14 weeks.
When the chilling time is complete, you can either plant the bulbs in a pot with soil, or snuggle them into a container that’s been filled with pebbles and a little water. Note that hyacinth bulbs have a powdery coating that can cause skin irritation, so always wear gloves when handling them.
Forcing Hyacinth Bulbs over Water
To grow hyacinths over water, place a thick bed of pebbles into a watertight container such as a large glass vase or antique buffet dish. Nestle the pre-chilled bulbs into the pebbles, leaving the majority of the bulb exposed. Positioning the bulbs about an inch apart will give you a nice, full look. Fill the vessel with water until it is just below the base of the bulb.
You’ll notice that I emphasized the word OVER water, rather than saying in water because bulbs that sit in water can rot. The water level should remain just below the basal plate of the bulb. Once the bulb senses the presence of water, it will send roots down accordingly.
Forcing Hyacinth Bulbs in Soil
To grow hyacinths in soil, choose a strong container with a drainage hole and fill it halfway with pre-moistened growing mix. Plant the hyacinth bulbs closely together with the pointy side of the bulb facing up. Cover with more soil, until the tips of the bulbs are about an inch below the soil surface.
Stimulate Strong Roots
After planting, place your pre-chilled hyacinth bulbs into a cool, dark environment for one-two weeks. An unheated basement or cool kitchen cabinet are both good options. This two- week rest period encourages the bulbs to produce roots rather than shoots. This is ideal. Strong root will help the flowers stay upright once they come into bloom.
Next, bring the bulbs out of darkness and place them in an area with indirect light and temperatures of approximately 60°F. Rotate the containers periodically to keep the flowering spikes straight. Water as needed to keep the soil lightly moist, or to keep the water level just below the base of the bulbs.
It usually takes about a month for pre-chilled hyacinth bulbs to come into bloom. Keeping the pots or vases in a relatively cool location out of direct sunlight will extend the bloom time.
Best Hyacinth Varieties for Forcing
Blue Jacket – One of the greatest blues of the flower world. These award-winning hyacinths display big columns of royal blue florets with crisp white edges.
City of Haarlem – A wonderful heirloom variety that’s been popular since the late 1800s. The flowers open primrose yellow, and gradually mature to a creamy white.
Jan Bos – A tried and true performer that’s big, bright and sweetly fragrant. This award-winning hyacinth has brilliant, fuchsia-pink florets that are tightly packed into large flower heads.
Pink Pearl – An heirloom favorite, first introduced in 1922 and still considered one of the world’s best pink hyacinths. The florets are rose-pink with white margins. A strong grower with dense flower heads and an intense, sweet fragrance.
Gypsy Queen – Gypsy Queen is an heirloom hyacinth with salmon pink petals that have peach and buttery-yellow highlights. It’s also fragrant, of course!
Additional resources to help you be successful growing hyacinths: