Hyacinths: She forced us!

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Delft Blue’ – the camera turns it more purple than the soft blue of real life

So glad I didn’t plant hyacinths last fall – or, rather, so glad I didn’t plant all of them. I held back six extra-fragrant ‘Delft Blue’ hyacinths from Botanus to try forcing. And now, when you step through our front door, you’re embraced and enfolded by the magical spring perfume of hyacinths.

We must, must, must do this every year! It’s so easy. To simulate winter’s necessary chill, the six were popped into the top shelf of my fridge, bag and all, once their brothers and sisters had been planted outside in October. I admit to laziness in this; some would have potted them up right away.

I got round to that just after New Year, intrigued by a product called SumiSoil on the Lee Valley Tools website. Lee Valley had a free shipping promo for orders over a certain dollar value, and a bag of SumiSoil brought my total to just the right amount. Hmmm. Might be good for forcing, I thought.

So I did a little test, using two of my vintage Beauceware containers – one with SumiSoil (the single bag filled one container) and one with a soilless potting mixture. SumiSoil is made of terra cotta ceramic-coated beads that encase charcoal, a combination that makes it moisture retentive and sweet [Ed: Sorry for the imprecision: I meant, charcoal keeps the water sweet ie. bacteria/fungus-free].

The bulbs in the SumiSoil below, and potting mix, above. Don’t you love these containers?

The containers sat side by side on the same middle shelf in the fridge for another six weeks. I checked both for moisture regularly, and watered as necessary. (Using the upper/middle shelves kept the bulbs away from ethylene gas produced by apples in the crisper drawer, which which might cause the bulbs not to flower.) When removed at the end of February, the bulbs in the SumiSoil seemed a little further along – though mine is a very small sample size.

The green container stayed out of the fridge, placed in a bright, north window to develop, with the pot rotated every few days to keep the new growth straight. Once the flowers in the green pot began to open, the blue one came out of the cold. Now I have hyacinths to feed my soul (and nose) for weeks.


    1. As far as I understand, Esther, it can be reused — although this is my first time. For more technical info, click the SumiSoil link above. I see I've made a slight factual error I'll have to fix. The beads are encased in a ceramic material, not terra cotta.

    2. Okay, a little further reading (of the packet) tells me that the beads can be recharged and sterilized once a year by washing then baking in an oven at 475˚F (250˚C) for 20 mins. Not in the microwave. They can also be added to soil as an amendment – but of course you won't be extracting them to bake, then. Too tiny.

  1. Nice job, Helen.

    You know you're a hardcore gardener when you place containers in your fridge, soil, bulbs and all. I can imagine the scent from those blue beauties.

    I stratified some maple seeds one winter in a baggie in the crisper and my wife wasn't thrilled for 5 months! Hence, the need to buy a bar fridge for "horticultural purposes", lol…

    1. I've had high success with Acer ginnala (Amur maple), low success with Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)and zero success with Paperbark seeds. Since I'm very interested in propagating shrubs and trees via seeds (veggies, not so much), this would be a good topic to write about. I'll have to wait until this fall though!

    2. In a tree course I took at Ryerson with Sam Benvie, he noted that paperbark maple makes very few viable seeds. I have a friend who bought a sugar maple seed in a packet that sat on a shelf for a long time before she decided to plant it. She now has a tree! I'll be writing about it later this spring.

    1. LeeAnne, Once you've forced the bulbs once, you can't do it again indoors. However, I have had luck planting them out in the garden. This works for hyacinths better than for other bulbs. In fact, the pink hyacinths someone gave me when my daughter was born continued to come up for over 20 years — not terribly vigorously, but welcome for sentimental reasons. They'd probably still be pushing up blooms if I hadn't rashly transplanted something on top of them. Silly me.

    2. I should add that, whether indoors or out, you must let the bulb foliage fully ripen and die back to nourish the bulb. Some sunshine and plant food when you water after the flowers fade can help. Then put them somewhere safe and remember to plant them outside in the fall.

  2. Helen, I don't know why I haven't forced hyacinth bulbs; it's such an obvious way to deal with the late winter blahs. Next year! I have sometimes bought potted, forced hyacinths from a local nursery. After they bloom, I plant them out in the garden, foliage and all; they have always done well and come back. All the hyacinths in my Gettysburg garden are former potted forced bulbs. -Jean

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