Here is an easy little project for a gardener of any age, adult or child, or experience level: forcing hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis). It’s a project that is commonly done in kindergarten classrooms, so it’s pretty basic.
A Victory Garden 2.0 Project
Forcing hyacinths is particularly appropriate in this year of confinement due to the COVID-19 virus, because not only will carrying it out keep you occupied and give you a sense of accomplishment, but, at the end of the project, you’ll have pots of beautiful flowers to offer to a relative or friend particularly affected by the confinement.
Why hyacinths rather than another bulb? Well, hyacinths offer two benefits. First, they’re very easy to force, not requiring any particularly complicated conditions. Secondly, they’re both beautiful and very, very fragrant: a single pot can fill an entire room with fragrance. Talk about the perfect gift to cheer someone up!
To force the hyacinths, gather the following:
- a bag of houseplant potting mix;
- a bucket or large bowl;
- a watering can or pitcher filled with tepid water;
- a small trowel or large spoon;
- various pots with drainage holes;
- 2 or 3 packages of hyacinth bulbs;
- a few transparent plastic bags;
- a few twist ties.
- The potting soil should be damp before you start planting, so pour it into a bucket or large bowl, add water and mix well. When it’s evenly moist, but not soggy, it’s ready.
- Add moist soil to the pots until they’re two-thirds full.
- Place the bulbs densely on the potting soil, flattened side down. Despite many websites insisting that the bulbs should not touch each other, in fact, that is not a problem. In fact, the more bulbs there are in the pot, the more striking the effect!
- Add more potting soil to cover the bulbs to at least two thirds their height: it doesn’t matter if the tip of the bulb is exposed.
- Place the bulb pots in a plastic bag and seal it tightly.
6. Place the bags in a cool place, such as a fridge, cold room or barely heated garage. Temperature: between 33 and 50° F (1 to 10° C). No light is required.
Prepare as many pots as you want.
The Long Wait
It’s now a matter of “convincing” the bulbs that they’re going through a long, cold winter.
It takes about 13 weeks of cold temperatures before the hyacinth bulbs will be ready to flower. During all that time, they’ll be growing. Yes, even in the dark in a fridge! First white roots will be visible through the drainage holes, then a pale yellow shoot will appear on the top.
During this time, check monthly that the soil remains still at least a little damp, adding more water if necessary.
Time for Forcing
After 13 weeks of cold, you can start to “force” your bulbs. Or you can wait longer if you want. When they’ve reached the “ready to bloom” stage, bulbs stop growing and wait for the arrival of spring. If you have several pots (and a big fridge!), you could take a pot out of cold storage every week or two and thus extend the flowering season until well into May.
When you remove the bulbs from the refrigerator, take off the plastic bag.
Ideally, you’d place the pots freshly removed from their wintering location in a sunny and cool room, at around 60° F (15° C) days: this will replicate true spring conditions and give more compact plants that won’t need staking. If you don’t have such a room, a sunny spot at a normal indoor temperature will suffice … but the stems may need a short stake for support, such as a coffee stirrer.
The bulbs will burst in bloom about two weeks! Remember to water them, as the soil needs to stay moist, and once the bag is removed and their growth has started, they use a fair amount of water.
Now is the time to make do your “Spring Santa” thing. Do a tour of your confined and isolated parents and friends and … share the very perfume of happiness!
When the flowers wilt (they’ll last about 2 weeks), simply put the bulbs in the compost. It isn’t easy to force hyacinth bulbs a second time, and forced bulbs don’t recuperate well in the ground either, as forcing has left them depleted.
So, what are you waiting for? If you’re confined yourself, you probably have time to do it!