Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to live dangerously with bulb forcing


There are many easy, relatively risk-free ways to force hyacinths, tulips, and other bulbs. Sometimes, I follow these guidelines, but other times, I willfully ignore them.


First, you choose bulbs that are recommended for forcing; usually these are the early blooming ones that require the shortest chilling period, so with tulips these would be the Single Early, Double Early, and Triumph varieties. Hyacinths have been used for forcing since the bulb craze of the seventeenth century, and the practice peaked in Victorian times. Since then, it has become far less popular (outside of the cut flower industry). I am not sure why some hyacinths force better than others, but they do. For example, the Carnegie and L’Innocence varieties force very well. Both are white though, which can get boring. I've also heard that Gypsy Queen and Pink Pearl are good forcers. (In the past I have had good luck with a lot of the blue varieties.) I got some Carnegie this year, and they are the furthest along of all my hyacinths, as you can see above.


I also got two somewhat unusual varieties, Isabelle and Raphael, neither of which are terribly advanced. They are both about the same reddish color, bulb-wise, and I’ve forgotten which is which. I think one of each are above, judging by the difference in root development. These are not especially recommended for forcing and who knows what might happen. Sometimes, when hyacinths are not particularly happy, you’ll get stubby stems with a few flowers. I have not brought the tulips up from the cellar yet, but even with those I took the chance of trying to force some Double Lates.


I prefer to start my bulbs over water in hyacinth glasses/vases or planted in pots w/dirt, and then chill them. This is just the way I learned to do it. Others prefer to chill the bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator and then plant them. (Carol/May Dreams Gardens chooses this method.) Either way, the chilling period should last at least 8 weeks.

So I’ve got strange varieties that may or may not work well and I use a chilling method that depends on the temperature in my root cellar. This adds some variables and uncertainties to the whole process, which is fine with me, because that’s the way gardening usually is.

I’ll be reporting on the progress of these as they develop. There are quite a few of them: between pots and vases, I have 44.

15 comments:

MA said...

I sure do LOVE that pale blue forcing glass. Can't wait for the big bloom show!

Kathy said...

I'm glad to see your experimental attitude. That's how we learn new techniques, and new varieties that force well. I tend to obsess about doing things the "right" way. It's good to be reminded that this is something gardeners have been doing for ages. Literally.

Blossom said...

This is my first year trying bulb forcing, with one lonely amaryllis from the grocery store. You are going to have an incredible display when all of these are in bloom!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I prefer forced Hyacinths to growing them in the garden. They look so stilted that the artificial treatment seems to suit them better.

EAL said...

MMD, I could not agree with you more. They look silly in the garden. Except maybe in a really really big planting.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I can't wait to see your garden of forced bulbs as they come into bloom.

Carol said...

I'm guessing yours will bloom before mine do because mine are still in the back of the refrigerator. I'll take them out on New Years Day and place them on the vases. And this year I just have whatever was for sale at the 'big box' store, so we'll see how they do! Thanks for the link!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Frances said...

Hi Elizabeth, that is so exciting, 44, do you display them together or scattered? That a fantastic collection of forcing vases too, I love them all. My luck with forcing has been nil, so mine go in the garden, LOL, silly or not. I think the hyacinths make a nice companion to the tulips if you can get the colors to harmonize. I have pink hyacinths with a pink and yellow greggii tulip with parrot type petals that looks great when they bloom together. Wild violets anchor the planting.
Frances

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

They look great so far. I've never forced Hyacinths, but you make me want to more than ever because I like the glasses/vases. Can't wait to see what emerges.~~Dee

Jean said...

It's always a delight when somebody says there's more than one way, because there is!

I force chilled hyacinth bulbs in opaque containers with stones because I'm not fond of looking at roots, and they tend to fall over when I give them away and someone hauls them off in the car in a tall glass.

This year I chilled tulips in pots of soil, bagged and placed in the refrigerator. They're coming up now.

I'm coaxing calla lilies, too, and baby lily bulbs. It's all fun.

Nell Jean, Seedscatterer and bulb planter.

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

Down here in South Central Texas, it's standard procedure to prechill hyacinths and tulips for 6 to 8 weeks whether they're being forced or going into the ground. I bought 9 'Kronos' Hyacinth bulbs at Houston's Bulb Mart in October. 3 of them are in clear glass hyacinth vases on my kitchen windowsill. The roots seem to be growing rather slowly but I see tiny green tips peeping out of the tops already.

chuck b. said...

I just have a three hyacinth bulbs, 'Gypsy Queen', I think, and they spent 8 months in the refrigerator before I potted them up and dropped off the pot in the back of the garden. I think they look silly too, but silly is fine with me. I just think something would be missing if I didn't have some spring hyacinths.

EAL said...

Frances and Chuck,

Hyacinths are beautiful plants outside or in, but my problem with them in the garden is that they tend to topple over, not bend gracefully as a tulip would. Also, the foliage is a bit too intrusive for me to have them in a prominent position going into June.

Just to clarify. They are not really silly or I wouldn't be growing 44 of them!

Jon said...

Interesting post for sure. This is the first year I have NOT forced any bulbs so I am looking forward to your results. Here's hoping you have a very Happy New Year and all the best in 2009!

Jon at Mississippi Garden

Chandramouli S said...

I never knew Banana could grow healthily indoors, even with lights! Wow! Another wow at washington post! Great... A fantastic review. I see I missed a great deal last year. well, it's never late. I can go back and read 'em slowly, but I'll definitely be tagging along this year! Gonna come back with every post!