Preparation is key for a blooming winter

Start planting hyacinths now so they are in bloom at Christmas.

Start planting hyacinths now so they are in bloom at Christmas.

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As good gardeners we have to plan ahead all the time. While we are enjoying summer, we must think about the arrival of colour during the winter.

Many gardeners love to grow hyacinths which, if planted now, should bloom in time for Christmas. It is essential to buy prepared hyacinth bulbs because they have been kept at a critical temperature for many weeks. This preparation ensures they will bloom at the right time, but they must be planted before September 15.

You’ll get the best results if the bulbs are the same variety. If you’re not sure about this, look at the labels and choose the colour you like best.

Traditionally, hyacinths are grown in shallow bulb bowls and many people have had problems with the plants falling over when they are in bloom.

If they are planted in half-pots made of clay (usually called earthenware pots) with a hole in the bottom, the results will be far better and the plants won’t fall over. It’s also good to use any Universal potting compost or John Innes number two.

When I was an apprentice, hundreds of pots of hyacinths were needed for winter displays at the Victoria Park conservatory.

An area was surrounded by wooden boards 10 inches deep to make a cold frame outdoors. It would face north and an inch of weathered ash was scattered over the base. The bulbs were planted five of the same colour in five-inch diameter pots and the surface was covered with half-an-inch of sand.

Once all the pots were lined up, weathered ash was scattered over until it reached an inch from the top of the wooden frame. The ash was kept watered and during the first week of December the pots were dug out, washed and brought into the greenhouses so they were ready to be sent to Victoria Park for a glorious Christmas display. It was a horrid job in freezing cold weather.

But why all the preparation?

The idea is to keep the bulbs moist, dark and cold. We can’t be bothered with all of this these days, so all we need to do is to place the pots on the floor of the garage. A cold floor is just right and a box over the top will keep the bulbs in the dark (just remember to keep them moist).

If you love Dutch Iris, these look lovely in pots. Use the half-pots, keep them on the garage floor and they will be in bloom at Christmas too.

The leaves will be yellow but within three weeks the shoots will become green. If planted in the next two weeks, they will be in flower for Christmas.

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