Welcome to my blog about bulb forcing

bulb bowls hyacinth cat

The bulb forcing year starts in August/September buying bulbs. Then the bulbs quietly grow roots in the dark until the beginning of December when they are brought into the light and warmth and can begin blooming from Christmas day onwards when it is magic to have flowers and scent indoors in the middle of winter.

I force about 200 hyacinth bulbs each year. I try different hyacinth varieties from different bulb companies and compare how they perform. I'm always trying to formulate the best ways to force hyacinths and this is the documentation of my results. (please note that all text and images are copyright)

start hyacinths as soon as possible for Christmas flowers

I think, as my mother-in-law (who started me off on forcing hyacinth bulbs in vases) would say, I think I've broken the back of it. (She was in the navy during the war and still used some naval expressions.) I started off with about 150 bulbs and am now down to about 25. I was going to plant some of those Caribbean Dream hyacinths in the garden for a comparison but realised I needed some very large bulbs: in those black Prattware vases, the "unofficial" quilted pronged, jar below, so used most of them.

hyacinth bulbs and vases

that little tin above shows the hyacinth roots pushing the bulb right out, I've tried to add a little more material around it, I don't know any other solution for this which happens with a few bulbs every year, depending on how I planted them

EIC sugar jar with hyacinth bulb

 

 

 

this jar needs a large bulb

 

I've never used it before; will see how it works

 

 

 

 

 

 

hyacinth bulbs and vases

I meant to take a photo of all the bulb bowls before I put them in the cellar (but forgot).

bulb bowls

I'm trying to get a few vases ready each day with the remaining bulbs. Pacific Ocean on the left, Blue Jacket on the right. Seeing them next to each other they are distinct but if there were a number of bulbs mixed up I couldn't tell them apart.

hyacinth bulbs

these bulbs don't look that great, going to save them for potting up in a container

hyacinth bulbs

these are some of my favourite vases, they just happened to get to the back of the box, usually I'd do these first

hyacinth vases

hyacinth vases and bulbs

Even though this amaryllis has been in the vase below on my windowsill for months, I only noticed how green it was the other day, I lifted it out of the vase, which was completely dry, to see dry roots. Amaryllis, like hyacinths, want to grow no matter what, even without water.

amaryllis

I filled up the vase with water, removed the dried leaves and replaced the bulb in it. I think it might bloom again.

amaryllis

beginning of October 2017

I just received my last bulb delivery. Apparently the weather has been quite bad for the new bulbs so there's been a delay in dispatch. I've had a few substitutes (sadly no City of Bradford available) and trying a new variety so curious to see how they (Pink Elephant and Pacific Ocean) perform. Unlike previous tries with new varieties I'm going to plant half outside so I can properly judge in case they don't like growing in a vase on water alone.

hyacinth bulbs for forcing

feeling a bit overwhelmed so starting them in small batches

hyacinth vases and bulbs

Some of the bulbs I started 2 weeks ago have strong roots. Hyacinths are so great to force as they want to grow and are so unfussy about doing so.

hyacinth vases

How to Force Hyacinth Bulbs

I didn't think my first post of the forcing year would be using Sainsbury's bulbs but here goes.

You can use hyacinth vases (4 on the right) or any vase that will hold the bulb above water, or a container with pebbles (I'm also using crushed shell mulch) holding the bulb above water or you can use bulb fibre or really any kind of compost. The good news is that the Sainsbury's bulbs are only 25p each.

how to force hyacinth bulbs

I've put a bulb in each vase and as many as I could squeeze into the square vase with pebbles. It's always fun to use as many bulbs as you can fit into whatever container you are using. I don't think the vanilla bottle really works now that I see how it looks. I can use that with a crocus bulb in compost. The pickle jar actually has too large an opening to use with these small bulbs. I'll save that until I get some larger bulbs. The jam jars were obviously free. Many of the vases were 99p or less. You don't need to spend much to force hyacinths.

how to force hyacinth bulbs

how to force hyacinth bulbs

 

 

 

I pushed the boat out with this clear Victorian vase with trailing and applied feet, spending £4.75.  I thought it would hold a small bulb - indeed it does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fill each vase with water to just under the bulb; the bulb must not sit in water - it will rot

how to force hyacinth bulbs

this bulb is split so putting it in this opaque vase will hide that

how to force hyacinth bulbs

Then all the vases and pots go into a cool dark place. I use my cellar but it's pretty much the ambient temperature outside, today 19°. Just put them wherever you can in the coolest darkest place you have. I think the dark is more important than the temperature. Leave them for about 12 weeks, until the bulge of the flower is out of the bulb (I will post more pics). The vases shouldn't need topping up with water but if you're using any of the more open containers, eg with pebbles, water will evaporate and you'll need to top it up.

The final step, for me, is to update my spreadsheet, with the date I started the bulb in which vase and which variety, in this case, they are unnamed but I do note the source.

how to force hyacinth bulbs

a few days later and the first roots have appeared

hyacinth vases with bulbs with roots

A week later and I now have one of my bulb deliveries so can press on with some of the other vases, for convenience I just took the squat vases from the next box

hyacinth vases with hyacinth bulbs

September 2017

It's time to think about the coming forcing season. The prepared hyacinths are in the garden centre - or just starting to be put out at my local one. I've labelled up all my new vases, washing some as necessary. The clear vase below I think will only hold a small bulb. Packs of small hyacinth bulbs usually available at Sainsbury's, probably other supermarkets or discount stores as well. The bulk of my hyacinth bulbs I await delivery from Peter Nyssen and Bloms Bulbs.

hyacinth vases

I came across this Ladybird book of Indoor Gardening on ebay and was curious what it had to say about forcing hyacinths on water.

Growing Hyacinths in glasses Ladybird

March 2017

End of March and I have an unexpected bulb in bloom indoors. I bought this vase as a hyacinth vase last Autumn but realized it was too big for hyacinths but couldn't find an amaryllis bulb at that time. I guess they were sold out for Christmas. I bought one mail order with some spring plants, put it in the vase and it's looking great. I had to squeeze it in but in the last few weeks the bulb has shrunk and it's easy to remove so I was able to replace the water and add more water easily. This amaryllis is not so tall as others I've forced in vases so doesn't look in danger of toppling over as others have done. I don't know if that's the variety or time of year I'm doing this - not the usual for amaryllis indoors.

amaryllis vase with flower

As the hyacinths wilted I just put them outside in this trug. It was too cold to do anything else. Now that it's gotten a bit warmer I have planted them all in the ground, as I do each year. The flowers are small but there's still some life left in them, see my gardenwithoutdoors site.

spent forced hyacinths

Then I went through my vase list and made sure each vase was properly listed and labelled, ready for next forcing season (there's some overlap with my hyacinth vase reference site (www.hyacinthvases.org.uk).

unique hyacinth vases

I reviewed them on the table on the patio. As soon as I go outside, the cats come! Jeffrey at the back, Bear at the front, both neighbour cats.

squat hyacinth vases

Victor, one of my cats.

modern hyacinth vases

February 2017

While browsing the Telegraph news website, this caught my eye.

hyacinth indoors Telegraph

the forcing season is sadly coming to an end after a fabulous explosion of floral fireworks

This is one of my last blooms, my only successful Fresco hyacinth. The others rotted so I held back on topping this up with water in case water too close to the bulb contributed to the problem. I was rewarded with a huge flower with the largest florets I've seen on a hyacinth - and that gorgeous purple at the base of the florets.

forced Fresco hyacinth

and from the other side

forced Fresco hyacinth

keeping the water level low did not prevent that Fresco hyacinth rotting only a couple days after the pics above, the florets were starting to wilt anyway so still had a nice flower for a few days

rotten Fresco hyacinth

very last hyacinths, Fresco on the left, Blue Eyes front right, Skyline back right (this pic was taken a few days after one below which shows these hyacinths less open)

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

4 days later that Fresco hyacinth on the left above has bloomed well, next 3 pics below

forced Fresco hyacinth

forced Fresco hyacinth

unlike the other Fresco hyacinths, it never rotted

forced Fresco hyacinth

I've had 6 out of 10 flowers on the muscari bulbs in the Shorter trough. On closer examination all the non-flowering ones did have buds but they dried before fully developing.

muscari with dried buds

I've been pondering what about the flower trough allowed the muscari to bloom that the bulbs did not get from being in a vase or compost, 2 things: air to the roots (as well as water) and something for the roots to anchor on. The compost and the vase provided one or the other, not both. I have taken the remaining muscari from the vases (they obviously are not going to bloom there) and put them on some crushed shell mulch I had, right below in the saucer. Maybe that's too late for them this year. I have 2 more muscari bulbs in vases in the cellar which I started later. I will try the same with them and see what happens.

forcing muscari indoors

a few days later and I have a bud! and another has one of those dried out buds, obviously there's something about forcing them on pebbles/gravel/shells that they like, more experiments next year

muscari

While passing Ligne Roset in Mortimer St, London, I was delighted to see this exuberant display of hyacinths in two white troughs.

Ligne Roset forced hyacinths

Ligne Roset forced hyacinths

end of January 2017

that last bulb bowl with Blue Jacket hyacinths is looking and smelling magnificent

bulb bowl forced Blue Jacket hyacinths

2 days after the next pic below, the remaining Delft Blue are in bloom and I put them all together - making a nice, if a little late, display

forced Delft Blue hyacinths in squat hyacinth  vases

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

that Fresco hyacinth (on the right in the Stevens and Williams Princess vase) developed another stem, it's looking good, a shame that later in the day the main stem fell off and was soft and rotted, as was the bulb

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

later in the day the above was taken one of the stems rotted and the flower fell off

rotted forced Fresco hyacinth

I have 1 good Fresco hyacinth!

forced Fresco hyacinth

and from the other side

forced Fresco hyacinth

Blue Eyes hyacinths on the left and 2 Delft Blue and 1 Skyline between them on the right

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

all Delft Blue except the squat vases noted in the next pic and Fresco in a vase at the back (will take another pic as it's not very visible)

forced hyacinths in bloom in hyacinth vases

close-up of some of those squat vases: Skyline in the terracotta vase, Blue Eyes in the front in the Tye blue vase and in the vase at the back with the white dots, Delft Blue buds on the right

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

I took the few vases left on the mantel and put them on the table above. Luckily I still have something special and beautiful to look at on the mantel.

the last bulb bowl with Blue Jacket hyacinths, Pink Pearl in the Hornsea bulb pot, Blue Eyes hyacinth bud in the blue vase, Skyline in the Up the Garden Path Portmeirion vase

forced hyacinths in bloom in bulb bowl

one of the last hyacinths in a Byzanta Ware vase

forced hyacinth Byzanta Ware vase

the next day, the last 3 hyacinths, 2 of which are above right, which I think will bloom as they have decent looking buds

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

I don't think this one will bloom as the buds are mouldy - not a common occurrence - not sure I've seen this before. But have seen problems this year with this variety - Fresco. Does not work well forcing in a vase, think they've all failed but one but they weren't prepared or marketed as a forcing variety so can't complain.

mouldy forced hyacinth buds

after all this time and only some very small roots, don't think this one is going to make it, just checked which variety - Fresco

poor hyacinth bulb

Most of the tulips were eaten by mice in the cellar but the bulbs survived in this little pot as it had a lid on (think it's a tobacco jar) but they've been infected with aphids. It got so bad I banished the pot outside.

indoor forced tulips with aphids

a close-up of those aphids on the tulips shows the insects themselves and their cast-off skin

indoor tulips with aphids

City of Bradford hyacinths

City of Bradford is becoming one of my favourite hyacinths: 3 in the middle below, in the amethyst, lime green and dark green vases. I'd never forced them before but very impressed with their performance this year, especially in the bulb bowl below.

City of Bradford forced hyacinths

all the hyacinths in the bulb bowl are in bloom at the same time

City of Bradford hyacinth bulb bowl

forced hyacinths in hyacinth vases

the buds on the Blue Eyes hyacinths are enormous

Blue Eyes hyacinth buds

Delft Blue on the right in the Dartington neodymium hyacinth vase, think that's Blue Jacket on the left, that pot was pressed into service at the last minute when there were too many hyacinth bulbs (as if there could be too many!) and I didn't note it on my spreadsheet

Dartington neodymium hyacinth vase

Blue Eyes hyacinth flower

Blue Eyes hyacinth flower

just 2 days after the pic below this one, the Blue Jacket hyacinths in the bulb bowl are opening up

Blue Jacket and Pink Pearl hyacinths

bulb bowl with Blue Jacket hyacinths, pink pearl hyacinth (I think, I didn't buy any pink bulbs but guess they were mixed up at the garden centre) in Hornsea Cirrus bulb pot on the right

Blue Jacket hyacinths in bulb bowl

close-up of those Blue Jacket hyacinth buds

Blue Jacket hyacinth buds

forcing muscari

I took this muscari out of the dark the other day. It looks a bit different from the others, in that it's like the hyacinths, in that it looks like the bulge of the flower is out of the bulb. It remains to be seen what will happen with it. And maybe the bulge is just leaves.

forced muscari

I realised that might not be a Shorter and Son trough. On examing the base, best I could without turning it over, it doesn't say "Shorter". It does have a number. I'll have to wait until the muscari are finished to examine it properly.

1930s squirrel flower trough

close-up of that squirrel, which I think is so cute

1930s squirrel flower trough

Surprising results with some of the muscari. No buds on the vase-forced bulbs. The bulbs I put in the Shorter and Son trough with the squirrel on a quickly improvised combination of gravel and compost have flowers and more buds coming. I don't know what exactly they like about that. 5 flowers/buds out of 10 (so far!), 50% very impressive, especially compared with zero from the vases.

forced muscari bulbs

close-up of one of the buds coming

forced muscari bud

close-up of another bud coming

forced muscari bud

Stevens and Williams Princess vases on the right (with Fresco), 2 glassroots vases in the middle (lime green has City of Bradford, cranberry Delft Blue), other antique glass hyacinth vases to the left (cobalt blue and green with Delft Blue) with Charles I Britannia ceramic transferware  (with Silverstone) amongst them

forced hyacinths in vases

hyacinths at their peak: Lady Derby far left, Caribbean Dream (fat dense flowers - wonderful) middle, City of Bradford right

Lady Derby  forced hyacinths

the pic below, just 1 day later after the pic above, and the 3 flowers on the right have opened up and some of the flowers in the pot and bowls have started wilting

forced hyacinths in vases and bulb bowls

Close-up of those 3 on the right from above, that Ravenhead Naturals vase on the left supposedly has Skyline (must be Pink Pearl, loose bulbs at the garden centre got mixed up I assume), middle "Venetian" vase is from Sainsbury's unnamed selection pack, Hornsea Cirrus bulb pot on the right has supposedly Purple Star (looks way too pink for that).

forced hyacinths in vases

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