This is only half



The rest were given away as holiday gifts—I think I originally had about 200 hyacinths in pots and glasses, as well as 50 or so tazettas. The tulips are still in the root cellar. I am told that one pot of hyacinths I gave away before Christmas is already in bloom.

There are many different ways to force bulbs for winter bloom, and none of them are that difficult. Warm zone gardeners can chill bulbs in the fridge before planting. In the north, even if you don’t have a root cellar, any cold dark place that will maintain temps of 45-55 works. You can get creative and just make such a place. A dedicated fridge might be the best way, though I would turn the temperature up (contemporary fridges are too cold), disable the light and keep nothing in it but bulbs.  I only mention all this because I think there might be a perception that bulb forcing is too specialized or difficult.

Over the years, I have stopped looking for the “best for forcing” notation in bulb catalogs. I like to experiment with the offbeat or rare varieties, most of which you can find at Old House Gardens. The only failures I’ve had are sometimes with forcing glasses (they really prefer being in dirt) and when I have tried to overwinter them in big pots in the garage. If they get too cold—which is what happened, I think—they will freeze and turn to mush in spring.

Shown above are (in larger quantity) City of Harlem and Woodstock and (a few of each) King of the Blues, Menelik, Mulberry Rose, and double Hollyhock. There are also some Erlicheer tazettas. The Mulberry Rose is really cool. Can’t wait. Though planning it and doing it is more than half the fun.

(This was also mentioned in my Bloom Day report. Click on the link to see all the other gardeners who participated.)

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Do you follow the “rules” and keep them cold for at least 12 weeks?

    Bulbs can take freezing, but only if they have good roots. If the soil freezes solid before they put down roots, the bulbs will turn to mush when it thaws. If you think about it, every winter the ground freezes a good 2+ feet down. Bulbs survive. So it’s something we’re doing when we put them in the garage (either letting them freeze too quickly or taking them out too early).

  2. Trop.,

    I keep them in the garage until April, treating them just as if I had planted them outside, so that is not the issue. The problem is that the garage is just as cold as outside, pretty much, and a pot is not the same as planting in the ground. However, tulips planted by this method do fine. So now I only plant tulips in the pots.

  3. So the hyacinths and narcissus turn to mush? Interesting. I would have thought the tulips would be more difficult.

    My question about the 12 weeks was meant to apply to your forced hyacinths. I have mine sitting in vases in the basement right now. I don’t feel like waiting a full 12 weeks! Have you found that it’s certain failure if you pull them out early?

  4. You must spend a fortune on pots every fall or do you buy them at garage sales in the summer? One of these years, I’ll try forcing some hyacinths. They’re so wonderful.

  5. Trop,

    No, only the hyacinths turn to mush when left in the garage in pots–not really a forcing situation. BTW, hyacinths only require 8 weeks chilling when you are forcing them. Tulips require 12.

    Deirdre, I use a lot of containers outside, so these are multi-purpose.

  6. Eliz,

    Thanks for the info. I’ve forced hyacinths for years on water and only had problems with a few cultivars. This winter I read about forcing bulbs and started second guessing my personal experience.

    I’m attempting to grow narcissus, tulips, and hyacinths together in a large pot this winter. It was necessary since my mother did not get around to sticking them in the ground. The pot is in my parents’ basement (garage gets too cold when it’s 5 outside). I am so curious as to whether the bulbs will do well. It’s agony waiting to see!

    BTW, my mother has about a hundred forcing vases. She no longer uses 1/2 of them. Some of them are antiques (like the ones in your photo), some are not. Let me know if you’re interested.

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