Enjoy the intoxicating fragrance of hyacinths and the dramatic blooms of amaryllis (Hippeastrum), 'Paper White' daffodils and other bulbs for Christmas and New Year. These bulbs are readily available and easy to grow in just a few months.
How to grow bulbs for Christmas
This method is the same for all forced bulbs, apart from the alternative ways mentioned below:
- To have hyacinths in flower for the Christmas period make sure you buy bulbs labelled 'prepared'
- You may wish to wear gloves when handling the bulbs as hyacinths can cause skin irritation
- The simplest compost to choose is bulb fibre, especially if the container has no drainage holes. Alternatively, a soil-based or soilless compost can be used, provided it has a good, open texture and is moisture-retentive but free-draining. It is not necessary to use a fertiliser-rich growing medium or to feed the bulbs after planting
- Wet the fibre or compost first and place a layer in the bottom of the bowl or pot
- Set the bulbs on the fibre or compost. They can be close together, but not touching each other or the sides of the container
- Fill around the bulbs with more fibre or compost, leaving about 1cm (½in) between the compost surface and the container rim to aid watering
- The tops of the bulbs should just be showing at the surface
The next step - 'forcing' the bulbs to flower at Christmas
After planting, the bulbs need a dark and cool period (ideally 9°C/48°F) to encourage the development of a good root system.
- Place the potted bulbs in a black polythene bag and stand them in a cellar or dark corner of a shed or garage
- Check regularly and water if there are signs that the growing medium is drying out or that the vase needs topping up
- Bowls or pots without drainage holes should be tipped on their sides for a while after watering to allow the excess to run out
- Place the potted bulbs in a cool, sunless situation outdoors, such as against a north-facing wall or fence
- Cover them with 15cm (6in) of bark or compost
- There will be less risk of worms entering the containers if the containers are set on a firm base, such as pieces of slate or old paving slabs
Growing hyacinths in bulb vases
This is an alternative method for growing hyacinths. The bulb should be slightly smaller in diameter than the vase so that it sits snugly in the vase. Fill the glass with water to the neck and then place the bulb in the top. The water level should be just below the bottom of the bulb. The plant can then be treated in the same way as potted hyacinths (below).
Forcing Narcissus ‘Paper White’
- Buy bulbs sold for growing as pot plants indoors
- Plant several bulbs per pot, with their tips just below the surface
- Use any good multi-purpose compost or bulb fibre
- Water well and leave on a warm, sunny windowsill
- Be ready to support plants as they can get lanky
- After blooming, leave in a frost-free place and plant outdoors in a sheltered, sunny spot