Hyacinth vases

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.

Clean hyacinth vases look like jewels on the kitchen countertop.
Clean hyacinth vases look like jewels on the kitchen countertop.

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.

An indoor garden of blooming bulbs makes winter go by faster.
An indoor garden of blooming bulbs makes winter go by faster.

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.

The bigger bulb on the right will produce a better and larger flower. It even looks less dried out than the bulb on the left.
The bigger bulb on the right will produce a better and larger flower. It even looks less dried out than the bulb on the left.

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.

Placing the bulb in the hyacinth vase
Placing the bulb in the hyacinth vase

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.

If you look closely at this hyacinth vase, you can see the water line is in the top third of the blue strip just below the bulb's basal plate.
If you look closely at this hyacinth vase, you can see the water line is in the top third of the blue strip just below the bulb’s basal plate.

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.

See those in front with the yellow tips? They just came out of the closet today. The vase on the left is modern. The turquoise one may be modern too, but it has the Tye type shape. It came from England.
The hyacinth tips will be yellow until they sit in sunlight for a few days, and roots will fill the vases.

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!



  1. Connie Dyer says:

    Love your blog and esp. this one on indoor hyacinth bulbs!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Connie. I’ve written several years on hyacinth vases and bulbs. I try to force a bunch every year. Thanks again, and I hope you’ll come back for a visit.

  2. Matt says:

    This is an awesome idea. Haven’t thought of using this kind of vases to have hyacinths with. Thanks to that!

  3. You have a beautiful hyacinth vase collection. I have 3 bulbs in the refrigerator right now. I’d never heard the warning about apples. I only have one refrigerator and we love apples. I haven’t had any problems the other years I had bulbs in the same refrigerator as our apples. I do keep the bulbs high and the apples low. Looking forward to the beautiful blooms in the house later this winter. A collection of bulbs just for forcing is a great idea. I need to get more vases. Last year, I sat some on glass pebbles in other vases and it worked too.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      If you keep your bulbs in a paper bag, I bet the ethylene gas from the apples doesn’t get to them. That’s probably why you don’t have trouble. Have fun with your bulbs this year.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have forgotten about the bulbs. I have had such a busy year. And I miss hanging out with you cleaning your house. And learning about all kinds of gardening.
    Planing on forcing bulbs next year.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I miss you too Annette. More than you’ll ever know.

  5. I’ve received these as gifts several times, and I grew some of my own a couple of times, too. You’re right–they help make the winter days more enjoyable. Enjoy! Happy Holidays!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Same to you Beth, and thanks for stopping by.

  6. Amber says:

    Are there other bulbs you can force like this? I’d like to do them, but I did some hyacinths last year and had to give them away because they smelled so strongly that I couldn’t stand them without having a sneezing fit.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Amber, you can force lots of bulbs, but each have different requirements. Some of the smaller daffodils don’t have as much scent.

  7. bittster says:

    I love all the glasses you’ve collected. I remember my mother searching and searching for glasses but never having any luck finding any more than three or four, yet now they seem a little more common.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Frank, I think they’re definitely easier to find because of the internet. I found many of mine on ebay, and some came from Denmark and others from England. No wonder your mother had some trouble. No one has them where I live either.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Lisa. They are tons of fun.

  8. Such a great process to watch. A great growing activity to do with kids. I love all your vases. Do you have a favorite and where do you like to buy them?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Karin, I don’t have a favorite. I like every new one I get. LOL. Yes, I’ve bought a lot of them on ebay. The best time to shop is in the summer when no one is thinking about forcing bulbs. There, I told you my secret. 😉

  9. Your vases are beautiful~Love how sparkly they are in the light. As Kathy said, I will make a note in my calendar regarding the Van E bulbs for forcing.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Gail. I think you’ll love them.

  10. This is on my “want to do” list so I really appreciate the information and tips.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Charlie. I’m so glad to help.

  11. I did not know Van Engelen had a collection of hyacinths especially for forcing. Duly noted! Mine are still in the fridge. I put them there in October and I don’t think it’s time yet.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      No Kathy, probably not. I’d wait until January or so, but your spring is later too so….

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