How to grow bulbs for Christmas
If you’ve ever wondered how to grow bulbs for Christmas, here’s how to do it!
It’s not hard, complicated or even expensive to do this and can be very rewarding.
In fact, to grow bulbs for Christmas flowering can result in some rather inexpensive Christmas gifts.
And it’s a very suitable project for children to do too!
Growing bulbs for Christmas
Preparation and what you will need –
- If you’re growing hyacinth bulbs do make certain that they are labelled ‘prepared’. This means that they will already have had some temperature treatment to trick them into thinking that it’s later in the season than it in fact is!
- When handling bulbs, it’s a good idea to wear gloves as some people’s skin can be irritated by coming into contact with hyacinth bulbs.
- Choose large firm bulbs
- Don’t mix colours or varieties in the same container as they flower at slightly different times.
- Choose a shallow attractive container to grow them in – it need not have drainage holes in the bottom if you use bulb fibre compost.
- Buy enough bulb fibre compost to fill your containers. This has virtually no feed in it as the bulbs have all they need stored inside the bulbs already. But the bulb fibre will have ingredients that prevent it becoming sour which would damage the bulb roots.
- If you plan to grow your bulbs in container with holes in the bottom you can use ordinary soil-less compost, preferably peat free too.
- Moisten the bulb fibre or compost and put a generous layer in the container.
- Place your bulbs evenly, pointed side up, ensuring that they are evenly spaced and not touching one another. For instance a container of 15 cms diameter would need 4-5 bulbs.
- Fill the space between the bulbs with more bulb fibre but leave about 1 cm between the top of the container and the rim.
- The bulbs should have about a third of their tops [shoulders] standing proud of the bulb fibre after settling.
- Water them to ensure that the fibre is wet but that there is no excess water in the container.
Preparing them for forcing
This is the very important stage where you actually do very little but the bulbs do a lot!
To grow bulbs for Christmas well it is important to not rush this stage because this is when a strong and healthy root system develops!
You see, the bulbs need a dark and cool period; 9°C/48°F would be perfect. This gets a good root system going.
There are two main ways that you can do this and it depends on whether you have a suitable place outside or not.
So if you have a cool and shady spot in your garden you can get those roots growing outside. You’ll need north or east facing wall or a particularly cool shady spot under a dense evergreen shrub. Place you potted bulbs there on the ground and then cover them with a generous layer [15 cms +] of moist bark, spent mushroom compost or recycled and composted green waste. You may be wise to set a few traps to prevent rodents finding them and digging them up but often this is unnecessary.
If you haven’t got a suitable cool place outside in your garden then you can carry out the root preparation stage to grow bulbs for Christmas indoors. If you have a cellar that is a perfect place but you may find that the garage is the next best place to get your bulbs underway. Place the planted containers inside black polythene bags that will exclude all light. Stand these in the coolest and darkest spot that you can find. Check them regularly since they may need more water [those outside probably get enough from rain]. If your containers have no drainage holes then it is a good ploy to tip them onto their sides until all the surplus water has drained away.
Other tips for Hyacinths
Some hyacinth bulbs take longer to bloom than others so do not mix them in the same container. For instance the popular pink variety Pink Pearl ideally needs 10 weeks of cool temperatures and then 22 days of warmth to flower. Others need a few days less.
If your hyacinths are not in bloom for Christmas Day then they make very welcome displays for January when all the decorations have been taken down!
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.
Special hyacinth glasses can be purchased for this.
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 but without the period of darkness.
This is an excellent project for school classroom windowsills.
Forcing bulbs into bloom.
Your bulbs need to have well developed roots before they can be forced and brought inside. Here is what you need to do;
- Bring your bulbs indoors when roots have developed and the shoots are 4-5 cm long. The flower buds need to have emerged from the bulb but could still be in the leaf sheath.
- Put your pots into a cool room but away from bright light. The leaves will then turn green.
- When green, move them close to a window and to a warmer position.
- Avoid a draft or close to a source of artificial heat such as on a shelf above a radiator.
- A humid atmosphere, such as you find in the bathroom or kitchen, is ideal. Failing that, stand pots and vases on shallow trays filled with moist gravel. However, never let them stand in water.
- Should the leaves develop faster than the flowers, move the pots to a cooler place. You can also cover your bulbs again to exclude light for a day or two but no longer than this because the leaves may turn yellow.
- Check regularly to see if the pots need more watering or if the Hyacinth glass vases need topping up.
Forcing Narcissus ‘Paper White’
These less hardy varieties are very early to bloom and can be flowering by early November. They are strongly scented and have many small blooms per stem.
- Buy bulbs sold for growing as pot plants indoors
- ‘Avalanche’ or ‘Bridal Crown’ are alternative varieties to grow this way.
- Plant several bulbs per pot, with their tips just below the surface
- Use any good multi-purpose compost or bulb fibre
- You can alternatively grow these in a container filled with pebbles or coarse grit. The bulbs have all the food they need inside them.
- Water well and leave on a warm, sunny windowsill [no cool and dark period needed]
- Be ready to support plants as they can get lanky
- After blooming, leave in a frost-free place to die down and plant outdoors in a very sheltered and sunny spot.
Other Bulb Types
Dwarf daffodil and short growing Tulips can easily be grown and forced into bloom earlier than they would otherwise bloom. Just be sure to get lots of roots growing in the cool and dark before bringing them into heat.
Try daffodil Tete a Tete, Thalia, Jenny, Little Witch, etc.
For tulips look for Little Red Riding Hood, Stressa, Pinocchio, Angelique, Peach Blossom, Hearts Delight, etc.
Dwarf Iris, crocus, Scilla and many other small growing varieties are easily grown in containers to flower out of normal season.
Of course, for really dramatic blooms, Hippeastrum – often referred to as Amaryllis – take some beating and bulbs to grow in pots inside become available from late October onwards. They do not need a cool dark period to develop strong roots. They do need to have very careful watering to start with as they can easily be over watered. Read more about them here.
Bulbs such as Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’, ‘Avalanche’ and N. ‘Bridal Crown’ are not hardy in cold parts of the Britain and so are best allowed to dry off and stored. They can be replanted in containers later in the year.
Allow hyacinths to die down naturally after flowering and then plant the bulbs in the garden where they will flower in spring year after year.
Floppy hyacinths can be staked by pushing a cane through the bulb and then tying the flower stem to it.
The main reasons for poor results are:
- Removing the bulbs too soon from their cool, dark conditions
- Too dry or too wet bulb fibre or compost
- The dark conditions not being cool enough
- Some bulbs are weak stemmed and will need support. Don’t be afraid to push a split cane down through the bulb so that it is close to the flowers stem. You can then neatly tie the flower stem to the cane with soft twine.
Hopefully now you know how to grow bulbs for Christmas you will have a go!
You might be interested to learn more about best bulbs to naturalise. If so check this out here.
If you enjoy growing flower bulbs then I’m sure that you’ll enjoy reading here about the millions of bulbs at Keukenhof Gardens in Holland.