You’ve probably already noticed that there are spring bulbs available from garden centres, nurseries and bulb companies! But have you thought about planting bulbs for Christmas flowering?
With a little planning and forethought, you could have Narcissi ‘Paperwhite’, beautiful hyacinths or the huge, fabulous flowers of Hippeastrum, which you may know as amaryllis, as part of your Christmas decorations along with the tinsel.
The exact timing depends on the bulb. Narcissi ‘Paperwhite’ will flower reliably 6-10 weeks after planting. If you buy plenty of bulbs, you can plant several bowls from early October and have a succession of flowers in the weeks up to Christmas. Different hyacinths have slightly different requirements, but all need some weeks of cool, following by some number of days inside, and you need to buy ‘prepared’ bulbs. Hippeastrum need planting in October for Christmas flowering, as they take about 10 weeks from planting to flowering.
Choose a suitable compost, which you can buy from compost suppliers. The simplest is probably bulb fibre, but any multi-purpose compost will do. For indoor growing, you are best choosing a container with no drainage holes. Place a layer of compost in the bottom of your container. Place the bulbs on the compost. Close together is fine, but not touching each other or the sides of the pot.
Fill around the bulbs with more compost, ensuring that the top of the bulbs just shows.
Forcing flowering of hyacinths
Once planted, the bulbs need time in the cool and dark to encourage them to develop roots. You have a choice of two:
1) Put the containers of bulbs into a black plastic bag and leave them in a dark corner of a shed, garage, or cellar. Check and water if the compost looks dry.
2) Put the containers outside somewhere cool and sunless, preferably on a solid (not soil) base, and cover with 15cm of bark or compost.
You can also grow hyacinths in bulb vases. Fill the vase with water to the neck, and place the hyacinth bulb in it. The water level should be just below the bottom of the bulb. You can then treat them as above to force flowering.
Once the roots have developed and the shoots are about 4cm long, you can bring the pots indoors into a cool room, away from bright light. Don’t be in too much of a rush to move them indoors, better slightly longer in the dark than removed too soon. Then, when the leaves have turned green, you can move them closer to a window to encourage flowering. Keep them moist if possible.
Narcissi and Hippeastrum
Narcissi ‘Paperwhite’ and Hippeastrum do not need to be kept in the dark. Instead, keep them well-watered, on a warm, sunny windowsill or in a conservatory.