During the long, cold winter, I miss being in my garden and enjoying all the flowers that bloom throughout the growing season. To compensate, I try to bring spring inside by forcing a variety of bulbs to bloom. Many gardeners will grow paperwhite narcissus indoors during the winter months, because they are so easy but don’t go any further. Hyacinth bulbs are the next step for indoor out-of-season blooms. While the paperwhites can’t regrow in my zone 5 garden; once the hyacinths are done blooming, the bulbs can be planted outdoors to rebloom the following year. I also love the sweet smell the hyacinths release to remind me of warmer days in the garden.
Here is how I do it: First you need
Hyacinth forcing vases or any other vases that have a deep base and narrow neck that will hold a bulb at the top. (This year I seemed to be missing 2 forcing vases so I found a couple of tall regular vases which should work just as well.)
tap water – not soft water.
My secret ingredient – a pinch of activated charcoal to keep the water sweet and clear.
Basically, you fill the vase with water until it reaches the neck so when the bulb is settled in, the bottom of it just barely touches the water. (you can already see the roots starting after only a couple of days)
Add a pinch of charcoal and let it settle to the bottom.
Set the bulb in the top of the vase.
Place the bulbs in a cool dark spot for about six to eight weeks, until the nub on top is about an inch tall. I usually place them in a box to keep them in the dark and put them in my basement crawl space where it will get very cool but doesn’t freeze.
I have known folks in warmer climates put the bulbs in the refrigerator to chill them, and it should work as long as there is no fruit stored with the bulbs. Apparently, fruits release gasses that can harm them.
I occasionally check the water level and if it looks as though there has been some evaporation, I will add more to keep it at the same level, just barely touching the bottom of the hyacinth.
Once the nub is about 1 inch tall, bring the vases out to a bright indirect light. From here, you can watch the plant grow until it blooms. This is not a short term project. It can take as long as 3 or 4 months until it blooms.
It is a great science project for kids. When I use it for my gardening classes I bring a hyacinth out each week so the students can see the changes from week to week. They can see the roots sprout and grow, and the little nub on top grow into leaves, stem and finally flowers. If you sacrifice one bulb and cut it in half, they can see all the parts of the plant in the bulb looking like the layers of an onion. Sometimes when I am reluctant to sacrifice a hyacinth bulb, I use an actual onion.