Hyacinth 'Berries and Cream Mixture' from T&M

Hyacinths such as ‘Berries and Cream Mixture‘ can be grown in water to enjoy throughout the depths of winter
Copyright: Dutch Gardens

Growing hyacinths in water gives you the chance to enjoy vibrant and beautifully scented spring bulbs in the depths of winter. In fact, with a little bit of planning, you’ll have a windowsill full of colourful bulbs just in time for Christmas. Here’s how to grow hyacinth bulbs in water at home.

Why grow hyacinths in water?

Hyacinth ‘White Pearl’ from T&M

Hyacinth ‘White Pearl’ bulbs look simple and elegant when forced in water
Image: Hyacinth ‘White Pearl’ from Thompson & Morgan

Growing hyacinths in water is a method of ‘forcing’ bulbs to make them flower early. It’s a technique which first became fashionable in Victorian times which is when the water method was invented. While you can force hyacinths by planting them in compost, growing them in water is a no mess, fun way of doing it and provides an interesting and unique floral display.

What equipment do I need to grow hyacinths in water?

growing bulbs indoors

Special hyacinth vases make this method easy
Image: T&M

While you can buy special glass hyacinth vases, all you need to get started is a few vases with narrow necks. You need to be able to place the bulb just above the water without the base touching the liquid, so choose a container that supports the bulb without letting it slip too far down.

If you don’t have any suitable vases, try using bowls. To keep the base of the bulb dry, all you need to do is fill it with pebbles or stones, before pouring the water and placing the bulb on top. You’ll want to use clean, attractive stones, so if you take some from the garden, give them a good scrub first. A note of caution: Hyacinth bulbs can irritate your skin, so always wear gloves when handling them.

How to force hyacinth bulbs

Hyacinth 'Pretty in Pink' Mix from Thompson & Morgan

The bright ‘Pretty in Pink’ mix provides a welcome splash of colour
Image: Visions BV, Netherlands

The way to force any bulb is to trick it into thinking it’s winter, and then change its environment so that it thinks it’s spring. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is.

To recreate ‘winter’, put your hyacinths in a breathable bag and, keeping them well separated from foodstuffs, place them in your fridge and leave them there for several weeks. Check on them from time to time. When the bulbs begin to sprout, they’re ready for planting.

To plant the bulbs, simply fill your vases with water and place the bulb so that the base sits about 5mm or 1/4” from the surface. This is important because, while you want the roots to grow down into the water, if the base of the bulb gets soggy it can rot.

How to bring forced hyacinths to flower

Hyacinth ‘Purple Sensation’ from T&M

The luxurious mauve blooms of ‘Purple Sensation’ have a rich and powerful fragrance
Image: Hyacinth ‘Purple Sensation’ from T&M

Once you’ve planted your hyacinths, the next step is to put them somewhere cool and shady (a steady 9°C is ideal). A cupboard or dark corner of your shed or garage will do the trick. This encourages strong roots to grow. Make sure you check the water level regularly, topping up as necessary.

Once your plants have abundant roots and the shoots are a couple of inches high, it’s time to move them indoors for the next phase of the forcing process. This involves placing your hyacinth vases somewhere cool, out of direct light, and away from both cold drafts and heat sources like radiators. You want the temperature to stay nice and steady. This stage helps your plant to ‘green up’ and grow.

Finally, move your hyacinths to a sunny windowsill, keep them topped up and get ready to enjoy a splash of colour just when you need it most. If you notice that the leaves are growing but no flowers are forming, put the bulbs back into the shady corner again. Only leave them there for a couple of days. You don’t want to confuse the plant into thinking winter has returned or the foliage will yellow.

Which hyacinths grow well in water?

Hyacinth 'Mystic Midnight' from Thompson & Morgan

For a gothic table setting at Christmas time, try ‘Mystic Midnight’
Image: Hyacinth ‘Mystic Midnight’ from Thompson & Morgan

If it’s winter colour you’re after, forced hyacinths are a lovely idea. You can choose any bulbs from our range and give them a go. For an unusual peach-coloured flower with a delightful scent, Hyacinth ‘Gypsy Queen’ is a good one to grow indoors. Or opt for a mix of bright bulbs like Hyacinth T&M Mix.

For those who like a touch of the gothic at Christmas time, we highly recommend Hyacinth Mystic Midnight. They make a striking feature for the table and they’re the perfect prop for a traditional festive ghost story.

If you’re keen to enjoy a riot of colour during the ‘bleak midwinter’ or you want to grow your own Christmas gifts, you now have all the knowledge you need. For more bulb growing advice and inspiration, visit our spring flowering bulbs hub page.

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