How to Grow Bulbs for Christmas

LittleGardenBeauty
Published on September 1st 2019
28
two hyacinth bulbs
Firstly, apologies for mentioning Christmas before the school holidays have even finished. Especially if - like me - you've still not fully organised the 'back to school' list.
With slightly skewed priorities, I'm trying to be a bit more organised with my plants, and am already thinking about the winter holidays and where we're going to be. To ensure we get to enjoy that heavenly scent and the stunning display forced bulbs can provide, we do need to start gathering or ordering supplies now.
A group of Hyacinth bulbs with flower spikes just beginning to emerge.
The cultivar of Hyacinth you pick will determine when you need to plant.

Be prepared

Not just a Scout motto, but also an essential rule for bulbs. Very soon, if not already, garden centres will be stocking especially 'prepared' bulbs, sometimes labelled as indoor bulbs. These have been stored and chilled at below zero temperatures over the summer, tricking the bulbs into thinking they've experienced a full winter and that it's now time to re-emerge.
  • Hyacinths
There are lots of different cultivars of this fragrant performer for you to pick from. But make sure that when you do make your choice, check the recommended planting time. For a 25th December display, some will need to be planted by 24th September, as they require ten weeks of cooler conditions followed by three weeks indoors. Others will only need eight weeks outside and two and a half weeks indoors, so don't need to be planted until 12th October.
Two boxes of hyacinth bulbs, one box full of purple bulbs, the other white.
Some garden nurseries will have open boxes for you to pick and mix from. Remember a pen and pick large, firm bulbs for the best results.

Planting

There are several different types of containers to grow Hyacinths in, but the forcing method is the same. These are:
  • Glass vases which have a narrow neck that holds the bulb above the water reservoir.
  • Containers without drainage holes and the bottom filled with stones.
2 purple Delft Blue Hyacinth bulbs suspended above water in hyacinth vases.
Remember to label your containers. Hyacinth bulbs are almost impossible to tell apart.

Method

  • To plant the bulbs use either wetted (but not soaked) bulb fibre or soil-based or soil-less compost, which is moisture retentive but free draining.
  • Place a layer of your chosen growing medium into the base of the pot then arrange the bulbs, making sure they don't touch.
  • Fill growing medium around the placed bulbs until it is just below the bulb tips. The level should be about 1cm (1/2") below the rim of the container.
  • You then need to place the container in a cool dark place (around 9C/48F) to encourage the development of the roots. You could put the containers in a cellar or wrapped in a black polythene bag in the corner of the garage/shed.
An onion growing balanced on the neck of a Kilner style jar with it's roots dangling into the water.
Like this onion, Hyacinth bulbs can be grown balanced above water in (or on) anything that prevents them from slipping in.
  • Check regularly making sure they don't dry out.
  • After eight to ten weeks bring the containers inside. Place in cool conditions to allow the leaves to develop for a week, then move to a sunnier, warmer position. The blooms should appear at 1.5 - 2 weeks later.
Tip: You might want to wear gloves as some people find the bulbs irritate their skin.
A silver container of red Amaryllis in full flower, on a table
Hippeastrum (known as Amaryllis) only require 10 weeks from planting until they flower.

Other Bulbs to try.

  • Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) bulbs are another stunning flower for Christmas displays and are grown in the same way as hyacinths. With a shorter growing time, you do not need to plant these until the middle of October.
  • Daffodils such as Narcissus 'Bridal Crown' and N. 'Paperwhite' can flower between six to ten weeks after planting. As their natural flowering time is January to February, they do not need to be deeply chilled. Look for the best quality bulbs you can find as they are more likely to flower early. They are sometimes advertised as indoor pot plant varieties.

Aftercare

The beauty of these bulbs is that they are a gift that keeps giving. Once the flowers have finished and the foliage has died back, the Hyacinths and Amaryllis can be planted out to adjust to their regular flowering times. The daffodils are not hardy so store the bulbs in a paper bag ready to re-use for next Christmas.
Tip: All bulbs prefer not to be near drafts or artificial heat, so avoid standing them too close to radiators or frequently opened windows.

Prolonging the display

The reason why I've written this article a little early is to give everyone time to prepare. Celebrations always seem to start at the beginning of December and go on into the new year.
Most blooms won't last that long, so to make sure you've always got a stunning display or gifts ready to present at the drop of a hat, you will need to plant several containers spaced out over the next six to eight weeks. Not only will you have all that glorious scent, but you'll also get the admiring, possibly slightly envious, comments from visitors whose flowers haven't yet opened or have already finished.
So get yourselves prepared and, dare I say it, Happy Holidays!
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