Giving the Gift of Spring

Pot your own bulbs for indoor blooms — it’s easy!
Hyacinth bulbs

Tuck hyacinth bulbs into a pot of soil before chilling in the refrigerator for 13 to 15 weeks.

Flower bulbs are one of my parents’ favorite holiday gifts and something that they look forward to receiving each year. I’m not sure which they enjoy more: watching them grow or the ultimate flower display. Sharing the project with friends and family is no doubt part of the appeal, too.

Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are the easiest spring-flowering bulbs to trick into winter bloom because they don’t need any special treatment. Just plant the bulbs and step back! Potted amaryllis are hard to beat for the “wow” factor when their huge 5-7″-wide blooms open. Deep red varieties are Christmas favorites, but white, pink, striped, and even yellow-green are popular, too. We pot up the bulbs in 6-8″-wide pots filled with fluffy houseplant potting mix, leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. After tucking the fleshy roots into the soil, we water the pots then wait for green growth to appear. Usually, the tip of a leaf or flower bud begins to peek from the top of the bulb within two to three weeks. Either one may show up first, but both will eventually grow. Once they get going, the flower stalks grow so rapidly that you can almost see them expand! The first flowers open three to four weeks after the stalks begin to emerge. Paperwhites burst into bloom even sooner, often flowering within three weeks of planting.

Forcing vase

To force hyacinth bulbs without planting in soil, set the bulbs on top of these special water-filled vases.

Hyacinths are another gratifying bulb to force for winter bloom and they don’t even need to be planted in soil. I gave my parents a set of hyacinth forcing vases that support the bulbs above a water reservoir. The roots grow down into the water and the bulbs stay dry. Unlike amaryllis, however, hyacinths need a chilling period of 13 to 15 weeks to trick them into thinking it’s spring. Preconditioned bulbs, which are available from some suppliers, have already been chilled, but conditioning your own is very simple. Add water to the forcing vase so that it will be just below the bottom of the bulb, then set the bulb on top. Put the vase and bulb in the back of the refrigerator, adding water as needed until it’s time to take it out of the cold treatment. When the chilling period is over, set the vase near sunny window and expect to smell a breath of spring in two to three weeks when the fragrant flowers open.

Not everyone on my Christmas list enjoys the process of preparing bulbs for forcing, but they still like the midwinter flowers. These lucky folks may find a basket of ready-to-grow daffodils and tulips in a FedEx box on their doorstep in December. Shhh, it’s a surprise!

For a list of best hyacinth varieties and more detailed instructions for forcing them, see the article at the North Carolina State University website.

For ready-to-bloom bulb baskets, visit Dutch Gardens or Gardener’s Supply.

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5 Responses to Giving the Gift of Spring

  1. tina says:

    Where would one find hyacinth forcing bulbs? They are neat and I have looked for them and the plant/fish vases, with little luck. Thanks.

  2. Hi Tina,I am lucky to have a local garden center (Gardener’s Supply in Burlington, VT) that offers chilled hyacinth bulbs. However, at this time of year, you can also get hyacinth bulbs that are meant for fall planting — probably on sale, too! You just have to do the chilling yourself. As for the hyacinth vases, those can be found at good garden centers or online merchants. Try a search using the term “hyacinth vase”. -David, Gardener’s Supply

  3. tina says:

    I will look for them. Thanks Dave!

  4. Isa says:

    For the first time this year I tried to force tulip and hyacinth bulbs. I planted some in dirt and some in special vases, like the hyacinth vases. I put them in a basement room by an outside door where the temperature would be cool but remain above freezing. Unfortunately, critters squeezed under that door and devored the beautiful tulips and even some of the hyacinths I had in dirt. Luckily the vases were too tall for them. Next year, is there anything I could add to the bulbs or dirt to ruin their banquet?

  5. I don’t know of anything you can add to the dirt or the bulbs. You will need to enclose the bulbs in something to keep the critters out. Keep in mind that the bulbs do not need <>light<> at this stage. What about a plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid? -David, Gardener’s Supply

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