Antique Hyacinth Vases



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How to force hyacinths and which varieties to use


Forcing Other Bulbs




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How to Force Hyacinth Bulbs for Christmas
  This page has advice about how to force hyacinths and information about the varieties I have used in recent years.
  There are four main steps to successfully forcing hyacinths for Christmas/early-January, in summary:

1. Order bulbs early, specifying those "prepared for indoor forcing". Some bulb companies give a discount for orders received before the end of June but certainly as early as possible to ensure availability of the varieties you want. You can also buy prepared bulbs in August at garden centres. Some years the prepared bulbs seem to sell out faster than others. This year I was still able to buy a bulb for a last minute ebay vase in December.

  2. Prepare the vases in September by putting the bulb in the top and filling it with water to about 1 cm below the bulb, basically as high as you can without touching the bulb.
  3. Put the vases in a cool dark environment. A cool cellar is ideal but a fridge would work. (I tried a fridge this year but the bulbs in the fridge were very slow to develop. Based on this experience I don't think it's necessary unless the weather is very warm in the autumn.)
  4. Check the vases regularly for 3 months, topping up the water as required.

5. Bring the vases out into the light in December or January - but only after the flower is fully out of the bulb. I was able to bring a number of vases out of the cellar about December 15th and then some a week later and some a week later still. The last 10 vases are still there (as of December 30th) so you need to judge for yourself depending on the bulb's development.

  Ready to come into the light. The bulge of the flower is out of the bulb. These bulbs are not ready yet and need more time in the dark. The bulge of the flower is not out of the bulb yet.

Keys to forcing success

* dark, cool environment

* time left in the dark until the flower is out of the bulb

Just before Christmas/end of December, the buds are ready to burst into bloom.
August/September just getting bulbs and vases ready to go into the cellar.
  The following is an analysis of my bulb forcing times for 2010:

Average time in the dark (all varieties): 13 weeks

Average time until full bloom once they are taken out of the dark: 3 weeks



Avg time in the dark Avg time until bloom
  Atlantic (based on 7 bulbs) 11 weeks 3 weeks
  Blue Jacket (based on 9 bulbs) 17 weeks  

Delft Blue
(based on 15 bulbs)

15 weeks 2 weeks
  Lady Derby (based on 3 bulbs) 9 weeks 2 weeks
  L'Innocence (based on 12 bulbs) 11 weeks 3 weeks
  Pink Pearl (based on 4 bulbs) 15 weeks 3 weeks
  Viking (based on 4 bulbs)    

A few bulbs are still in the cellar so I can't do a final analysis but these are the figures so far.

I realized when I was looking at the timings that another piece of info which would be useful, in addition to the date when they are in full bloom, would be the date they are spent, allowing an estimate of the time the flowers will last. That will definitely go on next year's labels, in addition to: date started, date into light and date in full bloom.


Varieties of hyacinths to force and where to buy them


  I have tried a few different varieties of hyacinths last year and this year. Below are the images for 2009/2010. The home page has the images for 2010/2011. After the season is over in a few weeks I will summarize so watch this space.

Christmas L'Innocence on January 15th 2010 above
Christmas L'Innocence on January 1st 2010 above
Hyacinths in bloom two weeks after Christmas, above and on Christmas Day, below. This shows clearly that some varieties have bloomed earlier than others.

Hyacinths in bloom for Christmas

I'm intrigued that some hyacinth bulbs have bloomed so quickly but others have barely started. I couldn't remember which varieties I bought this year, aside from Delft Blue which is my favourite, so I went back to my order to check. I bought the Bloms Bulbs catalogue at Chelsea this year (May 2009). I hadn't bought bulbs from them before but was impressed they had "Christmas" hyacinths, in addition to bulbs prepared for indoor forcing, so thought I'd try them. This page shows what varieties of hyacinths I used this year and where they are as of January 1st 2010 and then two weeks later on January 15th. Dates given for the prepared bulbs are according to the catalogue, eg "Christmas".

Please let me know what bulbs you tried and how they performed. I'm certainly not impressed with the bulbs described as "Christmas" although some are catching up fast. Many have grown enormously and suddenly bloomed in the past week.

My tallest flowers (Ostara, Delft Blue and L'Innocence) were up to 44 cm tall and the smallest were only 13 cm (Woodstock). I'd never noted heights before but next year I will choose varieties for specific vases based on size as well as colour which I did this time.
Christmas Delft Blue: 3 in bloom on January 1st 2010 (above) but the rest are still buds
Christmas John Bos
Christmas John Bos: most in bloom (above) on January 1st 2010, just in the past week
Ann Mary, prepared, flowers end January 2010
  Ann Mary: all in bloom, my earliest performer this year (above) on January 1st

January 26th 2010

I thought those were all my Ann Mary in bloom for Christmas/New Year (above) until this perfect specimen (right) emerged.

How unpredictable bulbs are! Why is this one in bloom a full 3 weeks after the others? And the 2 below are so different even though they were started at the same time, same variety and even same type of vase. The lack of roots on the right bulb is reflected in its lack of growth.

Ostara, prepared, flowers mid January, above on January 15th 2010
Ostara on January 1st: 1 half blooming (shown above in the pot with Ann Mary) and remainder (above) not in bloom yet.
Woodstock, prepared, flowers end January
  Woodstock: all in bloom (above) on January 1st but some better developed than others. This variety is much smaller than the others, about 13 to 20 cm tall.

Thoughts for next year: 2010/2011

Looking at my vases now I wish I had noted the hyacinth variety, when I took it out of the cellar and what date the flower was at its peak so I am going to use labels on the bottom of the vases. If I start any later than the main group of bulbs I'd note that date and supplier, again if I used a different one. I did buy a few vases later in the autumn so had to get a few supplemental bulbs so that's why I'm not certain of some.

Below are my remaining bulbs as of January 26th 2010. Out of about 65 bulbs (about 55 in vases and 10 in pots) I had 5 not bloom properly and there was no discernable reason for their failure.

last updated 9 January 2011