There can be few things more cheerful on cold winter days than the sight of hyacinths in bloom. Of course, its not just the appearance of the flowers that bring joy, but also the rich, heady scents which fill the home.
That said, if you want to enjoy your own home-grown hyacinths this winter then its critical that you can organised early, and follow the right process if you want them to flower at the right time of year.
Buy Prepared Hyacinth Bulbs
The first step to growing your own hyacinths indoors is to buy the right kind of bulb. As it turns out, there are two kinds of bulbs available – “standard” bulbs that one might plant in the garden, and “forced” or “prepared” bulbs.
These latter bulbs have been through a carefully-managed process to ensure that they flower in mid-winter (if properly cared-for). So while they will no doubt be more expensive than standard bulbs, it’s these prepared bulbs that you’ll want to buy.
You can’t just purchase prepared hyacinth bulbs, plant them and expect fragrant flowers to appear within a week or two. No, the process takes time, so you’ll need to get started in September for blooms by Christmas. Fortunately, once you’ve bought the bulbs and started the process there’s very little to do.
Planting Hyacinth Bulbs
Prepared hyacinth bulbs can be planted in a variety of ways. Some people, for example, like to make use of their stored energy and simply place the bulbs in glass vases with enough water to begin growing. A better option is to plant the bulbs in good-quality potting compost.
The key when planting bulbs for indoor flowering is to plant them shallow – you’ll want the very top of the bulb poking out of the top of the compost. In other words, don’t plant them deeply, as you might in your garden.
Due to the shallow planting, hyacinths are normally best planted in wide, shallow containers. Here a number of bulbs can be planted together to provide a more visually-appealing display.
Note that while a range of different coloured bulbs are available for sale, they have a habit of flowering at slightly different times. As a result, while planting a mixture of colours together might sound like a good idea, in reality you’ll probably be disappointed, when one colour has finished flowering while the next has yet to show it’s head.
For best results, therefore, plant only one colour per pot.
There is little need to give prepared bulbs too much space; instead they can be packed into a pot shoulder-to-shoulder to bring you the largest number of blooms in a given space.
Once you’ve shallowly planted to bulbs in a container, the real work begins.
Getting Hyacinths to Flower
The trick to getting hyacinths flowering in the depths of winter is how they’re treated after planting.
There are three strategies that must be employed. Firstly, keep them watered at all times, so that the compost does not dry out entirely. Secondly, they must be kept cold.
At the same time you’ll want to avoid frosts. So a frost-free unheated room or outhouse tends to work well. Personally I pop my hyacinth containers in my shed, which gets pretty chilly but keeps any ice off them.
The final critical factor is darkness. The easiest solution is to grab a cardboard box, and place the containers within it. With the box popped into your shed or garage you’re good to go.
All you need do then is to check your bulbs once every week or so, and water as necessary, before placing them back into the box.
Now it’s just a waiting game…
Bring Them Indoors
If you’ve followed all the pointers so far, you should start to find after a few weeks that the exposed crowns of the bulbs, which you carefully didn’t bury in the compost, start to show green shoots. This is a good sign.
Over the coming weeks you’ll see this green “point” of foliage slowly growing. When the point reaches around an inch (2-3cm) in height, it’s time to bring the bulbs inside.
The sudden shift from cold and dark, to warm and light, will speed up the growth of these leaves and, in turn, the production of flowers.
Aim for a sunny windowsill for best results. Under such conditions, a month or so after bringing the containers indoors you should be met with the sweet smell of fresh hyacinth flowers in your home.