What’s the best way to banish the winter doldrums? Forcing hyacinth bulbs of course! But you have to take action now or you won’t be reaping sweetly scented rewards come February.
“Forcing” is a planting technique that allows you to bring plants into bloom months before they would flower out in your garden.
No doubt, Dutch hyacinths are some of the word’s most fragrant flowers. But did you know? They are also one of the best bulbs for forcing.
To “force” a hyacinth bulb, you are simply potting the hyacinth bulb in soil or placing bulbs in water replicating winter conditions. This simple process encourages them into bloom earlier than their “normal” spring bloom time.
All those hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and crocuses you see in grocery store aisles in Easter? Forced bulbs. Exactly. But those purchased flower bulb pots cost $7-$10 compared to 50 cents to $1 each bulb. Forcing your own bulbs is so much more cost effective.
Are you in? Want to “force” a few hyacinths with me? Nothing could be simpler to do. Here’s how.
When to force hyacinth bulbs
It’s so difficult to know when forced bulbs will bloom. The struggle is real! And it’s never going to be an exact science with the extremely general time frame of taking 12-20 weeks to “force” hyacinths into bloom.
Experimenting with various spring bulbs and planting a few bulbs each week between mid-October and late-November is your best bet.
As a very general rule, bulbs planted mid-October should bloom in February. Bulbs planted in mid-late November will see blooms between March and April.
On average, flowering should occur 3 to 4 weeks after the bulbs have been removed from cold storage which takes about 13 weeks.
In any case, bulb quality control is vital. A few cuts, scars or discolored exteriors is totally fine and normal. But soft spots? Mushy bulbs? Pushing your finger through a bulb? Toss or compost those bulbs.
Some people develop mild itching when handling hyacinth bulbs. So as a precautionary measure, you might want to wear garden gloves when handling hyacinth bulbs~ no ones likes to be itchy!
Why winter temps are critical in forcing hyacinth bulbs
Hyacinths need to go through a period of cold weather in order to bloom properly. Being exposed to winter temps tells the embryonic flower inside the bulb “hey…spring is coming soon, time to start developing”.
But if the bulbs are not exposed to the right amount of cold for the right amount of time, flowers may not form properly or not at all. Disaster!
You can buy pre-chilled bulbs or chill your own. The advantages of chilling your own bulbs is that you have more choices for varieties.
Regardless, you can chill your hyacinth bulbs either before or after you plant them. In both cases, the chilling needs to last at least 13 weeks.
Some people chill their bulbs in brown paper bags in their fridge until ready plant. Other’s plant in soil and store in their fridge for the chilling period.
Quite honestly, I don’t have room in my fridge for either option! Especially for 13 very long weeks. So I will plant mine in soil and water and chill in my sunroom.
How the process of pre-cooling/chilling works….
If you don’t have a sunroom, an unheated garage or basement, dark corner of the shed, mudroom or cool attic will work equally well. The key is no heat.
Most importantly, potted bulbs or bulbs placed in water must stay between m,m Fahrenheit with moderate ventilation for 8 to 16 weeks. So find a location that will suit the bulbs!
Consistent temperature is a must when forcing hyacinth bulbs. Consistently moist soil is also a must. Darkness is a must. I put my potted hyacinth bulbs in a box in my sunroom giving them the darkness and temps they crave.
At all costs, avoid freezing temps! If the temp drops below that 40 degrees Fahrenheit mark, you risk damaging the bulbs or the bulbs remaining dormant and never flowering at all. Sad!
Using a soil thermometer is helpful to keep those temps in check!
Fast forcing hyacinths fact…
Among all flower bulbs, hyacinths are the only bulbs that may have different colored tunics by variety. Some are magenta blue, others a mottled purple and others have an ivory tunic with silvery white. Awesome!
How to force hyacinths in a pot of soil
Use a high-quality, sterile and neutral pH potting soil that will support growing flower bulbs and hold enough moisture for proper root growth. You’ll also need pots (clay ones work well) or a clay bulb pan with good drainage.
A bulb pan is less deep than a standard pot. It’s broad and lower base provides great stability for fully blooming pots of forced hyacinth bulbs that tend to get top-heavy.
Broken pottery shard layered on the bottom provides extra drainage. Drainage holes are preferred but not necessary but you’ll have to be extra careful about not overwatering without them.
Fill each pot halfway up with potting soil. Tuck in your hyacinth bulbs about 1-inch apart (root side down please) in the pot. Leave the very tip of the bulb exposed when you fill up the rest of the pot with potting soil.
Add soil until you have a 1-inch gap at the top of the pot to make room for water. You don’t want the pot to overflow. Super messy!
Gently tap down the soil. That’s it. Your done.
How many hyacinth bulbs per pot?
Personally, I like full pots of blooms for maximum impact, color and scent. In others words, I want flower power. This is why I plant the hyacinth bulbs 1-inch apart.
If you want the same drama as I, you’ll want to make sure bulbs are planted close together but not touching each other or the side of the pot. Fitting shoulder to shoulder is ideal.
Plant just below the surface of the soil to leave as much room as possible for rooting making sure that white tip stays exposed.
A single hyacinth bulb is appropriate for a 4-inch pot or 3 bulbs for a 6-inch pot is perfect.
Nevertheless, place labels in each pot to identify the variety being forced and the date you put the bulbs into pre-cooling. This will help you plan for next year!
Fridge forcing hyacinths bulbs tip
Never pre-cool hyacinth bulbs in a fridge with apples or pears because they release ethylene gas when they ripen. Super bad for bulbs! Besides….who has room in their fridge for bulbs?
How to force bulbs in glasses
First off, clean the glasses or vessels. Hand wash with gentle dish soap and lay out to dry.
Fill each glass with room water temperature until just under, but not touching, where the basil plate, or root base of the bulb will be.
The bulb should not be in the water, just slightly above the water. You don’t want the bulb to rot!
During the cooling period, the bulb will grow roots big, luscious white roots down into the water. All the while, a pale, greenish-yellow top sprout will appear.
It’s vital to keep the water level consistent during the pre-cooling period so that the roots never dry out.
Mason Jars, tiny vases with small opening and even tea cups can work to plant in! The trick is to find a vessel into which the hyacinth bulb will fit but remain suspended over the water.
I like clear vessels so I can see the roots forming!
The vessel should be stable and remain that way when the plant is in bloom supporting a 8″ flower stalk teetering at the top!
The Salvation Army or Goodwill Stores are excellent places to find extra vessels to plant in if you don’t already own some you’re willing or want to use.
When to remove hyacinth pots/vessels from pre-cooling
There’s a true art to forcing hyacinth bulbs because the growth range is great~ between 8-16 weeks.
Either during or after the development of a good root system, you will begin to observe the growth of a pale, greenish-yellow sprout when forcing hyacinth bulbs.
As you check your bulbs weekly, watering pots with soil or re-filling the water in hyacinth vessels, watch for top growth.
The top sprout will thicken as the bud begins to emerge as you see one or two inches of top growth. There will be a substantive “feel” to the enclosed bud hidden within the top growth.
This is when to bring them into a very low light environment in a spot with a temp range of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. No bright light! No greenhouse. No windowsills please.
Bright light would only shock the new pale greenish-yellow sprouts that have been thus far in the dark. They need time to acclimate slowly to allow for chlorophyll production.
In 7-10 days move pots/vessels to a little brighter sun but again avoid direct sun. Keep in the 60 degree range and rotate to keep the spikes straight. Keep watering!
Once the flower buds color up, the pots/vessels may be placed anywhere to enjoy and smell!
Cooler temps will keep the flower lasting longer. Other bulbs you should consider forcing are tulips, crocus and daffodils.