I was recently with a friend, Emma Jeffery from Hello Beautiful, and we started talking about how to force bulbs. Emma is originally from England, and she said, “Oh yes, Mum always did that. I did too.” She seemed genuinely surprised that in America we aren’t as likely to force bulbs. I told her I think it just never caught on here like it did in Europe. Well, like Justin Timberlake, I’ve decided I’m bringing sexy back, and it’s in a small vase full of water. Forcing bulbs is the cool way to get your garden going on in winter when you’re bored out of your skull. Using vintage containers like forcing bowls makes bulb forcing even better. If you’re not bored, you can read the next post. I am, however, easily bored in winter which is why I started buying bulbs last August with forcing in mind. Although I bought some ‘Nir,’ ‘Wintersun’ and ‘Erlicheer’ narcissus, I went whole hog on hyacinths. ‘Gypsy Queen,’ ‘Woodstock‘ which has just started blooming above on the left below, ‘City of Haarlem’ named after this beautiful city, ‘Jan Bos’ and ‘Delft Blue.’
The two glass pieces on the left are true hyacinth vases. You can buy hyacinth vases on eBay and other places like Etsy occasionally. If you clicked on those links and saw a cobalt blue hyacinth vase for $795.00, do not buy it. Although older vases (and I’m not sure that’s even a vintage vase) are more expensive, I’ve never seen one for that. Before you spend money on bulb vases, you should do your research. Read a copy of The Curious History of the Bulb Vase, by Patricia Coccoris. The book is pricey, but I wish I’d read it before I spent money on candlesticks. If you live on the East coast, I hear bulb forcing vases are a common sight in antique shops. In Oklahoma, they are definitely not. Online, they are quite common, but you want to start early in July or August. That’s when they aren’t as expensive. Also, order your bulbs early and tell your bulb supplier that you want to force them. Then they’ll send them to you earlier.
To force in my crazy climate with all of its ups and downs, a refrigerator may be necessary especially at first. Temperatures between 40F and 48F are ideal, but I know that the refrigerator gets colder in the garage midwinter. It doesn’t seem to matter. You can either go ahead and put the bulbs “on vase,” or you can leave them in a paper bag. I did some of both. I did notice that the bulbs I put “on vase” are much further ahead of the others. One more thing about refrigerators…don’t store fruit near the bulbs. Ethylene gas will hamper your efforts. Because I use my garage refrigerator for extra food especially during Christmas, I needed to pull the bulbs out early. One day, when I was in the kitchen, I noticed that my broom closet that backs up to the dog run is very, very cold. I talked to Bill, and he offered to build shelves for me–anything to get some of those bulbs out of the refrigerator.
Normally, this closet is also in the dark. I just turned on the light for us to see what was going on. The temperature is the most important aspect of this process, but the dark helps too. If you have an unheated cellar, that works great too. The ones in the hyacinth vases in front have yellow tips because I just took them out of the dark closet today. Contrast that with the green ones in back. Chlorophyll amazes me the same way it did when I was seven years old.
If you decide to force hyacinths on water, you need to place the bulb so that the roots on the bulb plate (bottom of the bulb) can nearly “smell the water.” I may have read that in Patricia’s book. I don’t remember, but I love the sound of it. I don’t like my bulbs touching the water, but some websites like Wim Granneman’s Hycinglazen suggest it to stop Penicillium rot. Explore his site. He has lots of great information. Once you’re addicted, you can buy Patricia’s book, and maybe even Hyazinthengläser which is in German. It has great photos though. I copied some of it into Google translate and then read it. Most good information that isn’t put out by our cooperative extension service is written in Dutch. Oh gosh, what it would be like to visit Holland! I have a thing for blogs from the Nordic countries, and I’m so grateful for Google Translate. It works so well with blogs. If you want to check out more blogs from other countries where they do force bulbs so well, check out my Bulb Forcing Pinterest board. It is one of my favorites. Although I also force bulbs in soil, I find I love hyacinth glasses more because I can watch the roots grow in water. There is something primeval about it, and it makes me feel like spring is in the air. If you want, you can soak bulbs ahead of time in manure tea, but I don’t find it’s necessary. The bulb has enough energy to get started and grow all by itself. That’s what bulbs are–pure energy. I also like forcing in containers filled with soil. That works splendidly too. While I’ve seen lots of people online forcing theirs in rocks, I find it doesn’t work as well for me. The growing shoots fall over for example. To get the same look, I use soil halfway up the bulb in a container and then place moss or rocks around the top to make things look good. This does work well for me. I hope I’ve inspired you to try forcing bulbs next year. It’s great fun. Just remember to start in August. I wrote this to participate in Carol Michel’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day although I don’t have much blooming as yet. I’ll write again when they’re all in bloom. GBBD the longest running garden meme that I know of, and I’ve tried to participate nearly every month for years. To find others who wrote on the 15th, check out May Dreams Gardens.