Plant Hyacinth Bulbs This Winter

It's not too late to plant hyacinth bulbs for a burst of color come spring.

Blue Jacket Hyacinthus Ideal Bulb to Force

Blue Jacket Hyacinthus Ideal Bulb to Force

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Blue Jacket' produces dense spikes of sweetly scented blue flowers and dark leaves.

Even if there’s a dusting of snow on the ground, this may be the perfect time to plant those hyacinth bulbs you’ve been holding onto. For gardeners in zones 4 – 7, early winter is often an ideal time to plant because it’s cold enough out to give the bulbs the chill they need. And if you live in a colder climate but have some unused bulbs, you can still salvage them.

Many gardeners live by the rule that if the soil can be worked, it’s not too late to plant a bulb. In fact, hyacinth bulbs really need a few months of chill, so they’ll do better in the ground than they would sitting in your basement. As long as the bulbs are round and firm rather than withered, they still have life in them. Here’s how to help them grow: 

  • If you can still work your soil, plant as deeply as possible, then mulch for additional insulation. As long as the ground is above freezing, there’s a good chance your bulbs will grow roots.
  • If the ground is frozen solid, it’s important to get the bulbs into some kind of soil soon. Unlike many other spring-blooming bulbs, hyacinths can only make it through one dormant season without being planted. They need to grow roots and then “chill out” for a while (literally!) in order to sprout in spring. One solution is to plant your bulbs in potting soil in large containers. Put them in the middle of the pot so they are insulated on all sides by soil. Then put the pot in a chilly place, like an unheated garage or porch. If you live in a place that has extremely cold temperatures, a basement window might even do the trick. Water the pot when the soil becomes dry, but don’t keep it moist. Move the pot outside in spring. Once the bulbs have sprouted, you can transplant them into your garden or, as long as the pot has adequate drainage, leave them in! Hyacinth make great container plants.
  • If you live in a very warm climate, bulbs must have a period of pre-chilling in the refrigerator before they can be planted. The chilling season in the warmest zones isn’t long enough for a hyacinth bulb, so you’ll need to give them 6-8 weeks in the fridge before planting. In this situation, it’s best to wait until late December or early January to plant hyacinth bulbs. Otherwise the ground may be too warm and can interfere with the chilling process, so they won’t bloom. Also, if you plant too early, you might have blooms in February which could still be damaged by frosts.

Some tips for planting:

  • Choose a sunny to partly shaded area with good drainage.
  • Prepare beds with high-quality potting soil amended with organic fertilizer.
  • Dig holes 6-8 inches deep and plant bulbs with the pointed end facing up. If planting in a cooler climate right before winter, you can plant a little deeper to give the bulb additional protection. In a very warm climate, gardeners often plant bulbs a little more shallowly – 5-6 inches deep.
  • You can either dig one big hole and group several bulbs inside several inches apart, or dig separate holes and plant one bulb per hole. Give the bulbs at least 3-4 inches of space between, but no more than 6 for best results.

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