I began forcing hyacinths in vases several years ago. I became enamored of the process, and it’s now a ritual to take out the vases, wash all of them in soapy water and get them ready for their hyacinth bulbs. They spend most of the year in a broom closet in our kitchen on shelves Bill built for me. This closet backs up to the dog run and stays cool all year, essential for forcing.
In July, I ordered the forcing and exhibition hyacinth collection from Van Engelen Wholesale Bulbs. This is the same collection I bought last year. When the bulbs arrived mid-August, I put them in the refrigerator in a paper sack to chill them. About four weeks ago, I took out four and planted them in a couple of forcing bowls, but I saved the rest for my hyacinth vases. Bulbs need approximately sixteen weeks of chilling in order to fully form their flowers. I’ve gotten impatient in the past as you can see from the photo below. Now, when I put them in the fridge I ask Siri to remind me when they should come out. Otherwise, I forget.
After Christmas and celebration of the new year, there is nothing like having an indoor garden to get you through the next three and half months of cloudy, dismal weather.
To be honest, I don’t even like traditional hyacinths grown outdoors. They are like stodgy regimental soldiers always at attention. It’s this very stodginess, however, that makes them excellent for forcing. In my part of the U.S., we can’t run down to the corner grocery and get a pre-chilled bulb so we must do it ourselves. Just remember, don’t place your bulbs in the same refrigerator where you’ll have fruit like apples. The ethylene gas given off by fresh fruit kills the tiny embryo inside the bulb.
We wouldn’t want that.
You can also put the hyacinths directly on vase when you chill them in the refrigerator as Kevin does at A Garden for the House. I’ve done it that way too, but sometimes we need the space in the refrigerator. Storing them in bags takes up less room.
When buying bulbs of any sort, size does matter. A bigger bulb equals better flower production. With some bulbs, like amaryllis, it also means more flowers. I bought a few ‘Carnegie’ bulbs at a local nursery because I didn’t think I had any. I was there. The bulbs were there, and so I bought them. You can see from the photo, above, how much smaller they are. I know that the bigger bulb is ‘Pink Pearl,’ but variety doesn’t matter in this case. Bulbs come in different sizes. Bigger is always better. To get the biggest bulbs, you simply must order from a reputable source, and there are so many from which to choose.
Getting the water right is a bit tricky because every hyacinth vase is different, and where the bulb sits in the vase is different too. So, I put the water up to where I think it should go. Then, I place the bulb on top and check the level. Also, if you touch the bulb with your bare hands, don’t touch bare skin afterward, or you will itch. Hyacinths have calcium oxalate which can cause contact dermatitis.
My face was very itchy yesterday.
The bulb basal plate–the bottom where the roots emerge–should be just above the water, almost touching, but not quite. You don’t want your bulb to rot, but you do want the roots to sense the water. After I adjust the water level, I then put the bulbs back into the closet until they have roots, and the top growth is about an inch to an inch and a half high.
This top growth will be yellow until they hyacinth soaks up a few days of sun. Isn’t nature amazing? I think forcing hyacinths would be a great project for kids if you first chill the bulbs for them. A great parent or grandparent project because kids can see the root growth and the emerging flower. It’s a science experiment in a glass vase. You don’t have to use forcing vases either. You can use any vase if you first make a platform for the bulb to sit upon.
I love collecting my antique vases and using them. I enjoy playing with them each year. I hope you enjoy them too. Happy Holidays!