Growing Bulbs Indoors

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Growing Hyacinths for Christmas

If you want your hyacinths to flower at Christmas-time, you need to buy prepared bulbs – this will be marked on the packet.  These bulbs will have undergone a period of cold temperature to ‘trick’ the bulbs into thinking that winter has gone, it is now spring and time to flower.  Prepared hyacinths are normally planted around September for Christmas flowering.

Hyacinths can cause skin irritation, so it might be a good idea to wear gloves.

Many people will use a favourite bowl to grow their hyacinths in, as the bowl itself is attractive even before the bulbs flower.  It’s also possible to grow the hyacinths in water, using a specially-shaped hyacinth vase that holds the bulb above the water whilst allowing it’s roots to grow into the water.

If you’re using a bowl, we’d recommend a good quality bulb compost which has a good, open texture and can retain moisture whilst also being free-draining.  We generally use Westland’s Bulb Growing Compost and find it gives us excellent results.

Dampen (but not soak!) the compost before you start, and put a layer on the bottom of your bowl.  Place the bulbs into the bowl – they can be as close as you wish, but shouldn’t be touching one another.  Work the compost in firmly around the bulbs, filling the bowl nearly to the top – but leave it a little below the rim or you’ll make a mess when you’re watering!  The tops of the bulbs should be just visible at the surface.

The next step is to mimic the bulb’s natural growing conditions to get it to start growing.  Remember, the bulb already ‘thinks’ it is coming out of winter, but it would still be underground if it were outdoors.  So place your bowl in a cool dark place to encourage the roots to develop.

Keep the bulb fibre moist so that the roots can take up the water.  Take care not to over-water though, especially if your bowl doesn’t have any drainage holes.  If you’re growing your bulb in a bulb vase, keep the water just below the bulb, so that the roots can take up the water, but the bulb itself isn’t waterlogged.

Once the shoots are about 4-5cm and the roots are well developed, take the bulbs into the daylight – again, remember you’re mimicking the natural conditions in early spring when the days are getting longer.

You can control the rate of flowering by the amount of heat you give your bulbs.  If you want to delay flowering, keep them cool; if you want to force them on, put them in a warmer room.  But take care; if you force the bulbs too fast, they will become lanky and floppy.

After flowering, you can put the bulbs into the garden or in outdoor pots and they’ll flower again in their natural season next year.  But before you move them, allow the leaves of the bulbs to continue growing until they die back naturally – this is necessary for the bulbs to build up their resources again for next year.

Other Bulbs for Growing Indoors

Narcissus Paperwhites are popular indoor bulbs – not only are they most attractive, but they have a wonderful scent too.  Make sure the packet specifies that they are for indoor growing as pot plants.

Unlike the hyacinths, Paperwhites do not require a cool dark period and once planted can be placed in a warm place.  They will begin growing once water is provided and usually flower about 6-10 weeks later, depending on their growing temperature and the amount of moisture available to them.  It’s often necessary to provide support as they can become lanky and – once they flower – they can be top heavy.

After flowering, once the leaves have died back naturally and the built has built up its stores again for next year, the bulbs can be planted in a sheltered spot in the garden where you can enjoy them in the years to come.

Amaryllis are one of the most spectacular winter-flowering bulbs to be grown as pot plants.  Amaryllis bulbs vary in price depending on the size of the bulb and the actual flower itself.  Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the more flower heads will be produced, and like many other plants, the bulbs with more spectacular flowers are more expensive.

Unlike the Hyacinths and Paperwhites, the Amaryllis is not sufficiently hardy to withstand British winters. After flowering, it can be left outdoors over summer and given regular watering and light feeding.  In late summer, you want to encourage the plant the go through a period of dormancy which in it’s natural habitat would be the equivalent of winter.  So cease watering and feeding for a period of 8-10 weeks, ideally not subjecting it to temperatures lower than about 12 degrees.  Then move it back indoors and allow it to flower all over again.

Over time, with good care, the bulb will continue to increase in size and will need re-potted every 2 or 3 years.