Hartley Magazine

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Hyacinths for Winter Flowers – Part 24

When you have a greenhouse you can use this protected environment to manipulate many spring flowering bulbs into early and later growth, simply by staggering the planting time and bringing the pots of planted bulbs in from the cold or taking them back out to flower.

Visit the garden centre now where you will find a huge array of bulbs to plant now that will transform your home and garden next spring. Hyacinths are a great choice with their strong, heady scent. They make lovely indoor displays and are great for seasonal gifts too. You really can’t go wrong, every bulb already contains the flower bud, and all you need to do is to provide the perfect conditions to coax it out to flower.

The other great thing about hyacinths is that you can plan when they will be in flower. By buying them as soon as they arrive at the garden centre in late August and early September you can actually have them in flower for Christmas. You need to buy the specially heat-treated Prepared Hyacinth bulbs to do this, they are slightly more expensive but that’s because they have been carefully nurtured to bring them into flower earlier. As a guide they need twelve weeks from planting until they flower, so if you want them for a particular date just work backwards from that date to when you need to plant them. They also need a spell of cold and dark to mimic being underground in the soil. They do not need to be placed in the airing cupboard. In fact a cold greenhouse is ideal.

How to force hyacinths

First of all buy fresh, plump hyacinth bulbs. Take care when handling them as they have very fine scales that can be an irritant to some people, so handle with gloves.

Choose a suitable bowl with drainage. Fill the base with a gritty bulb planting compost and position three or five bulbs on top of this layer so that they do not touch, with the pointed end upright. Gently fill in around the bulbs with more compost leaving the tip of the bulb sticking out by about a centimetre. Water well and add a couple of organic slug pellets and place the bulb in a cold dark place. You could cover it over with a thick layer of peat-based compost but you need to keep the bulbs moist, dark and cold.

Keep a close eye on the bulbs and once the shoots have reached about 2.5 cm tall, bring the bulbs and bowl into a cold greenhouse in a light place. The shoots will be yellow but will quickly green up in the light and the flower stem will push above the leaves and the buds will start to colour up and swell. When the buds are about to open bring the bowl into your home or its flowering position and enjoy the flowers and the scent.

Look out for prepared hyacinths, which have been carefully treated and stored.