For those of us north of zone 6, going for weeks without cultivating anything can be a real drag. That’s why, in spite of the fact that this is not a “how to” site, I’m going to get down and dirty and talk specifically about bulb forcing—because now’s the time to do it.

Let’s start with hyacinths, which I’ve been forcing successfully for several years. Mileage varies, but as far as forcing goes, these bulbs are practically foolproof. You can get directions from all kinds of different sources—expert, official, and otherwise. These are mine:

Pot the bulbs in mid-October, right as the air begins to cool. (Later is fine, too.) They should be tightly packed in the pots (bottom drainage, please), with their tops showing, watered, and then placed in a cool dark place, where the temps will be between 40 and 50 degrees F. For me it’s a root cellar under the back addition to our house. For others it might be a cool attic, basement or unheated back room. I have heard refrigerators work, but I would use one devoted only to this purpose. Food … constant rearrangement of contents … kids reaching in … pots full of dirt. Hmm, could get messy.

The pots should be left alone in the cold and dark for 8-10 weeks. They’re ready to come into the light when you see nice fat buds pushing up and some roots emerging from the bottom. If you use forcing vases, where the bulbs sit above water, you’ll see the roots filling the vase. Very cool. These have the same requirements.

After you bring them out, leave them in indirect light a week, then put them in the sun. Avoid dry, overheated spaces (for these and for all house plants, for that matter). Hyacinths potted in mid-October should come into bloom in late January/early February. I often give them as holiday gifts; the recipients are sometimes nonplussed at first, but then I hear how beautiful the flowers are when they finally come up.

I have also successfully forced tulips (Triumph and Single Early work the best), which need 12 weeks in the root cellar, and once I forced some scilla that I had forgotten to plant. They had sprouted a bit in the garage so I stuck them in some pots in January and brought them in the house. They bloomed beautifully.

It’s not really full-fledged gardening, but it is fun to check out the pots every now and then when they are chilling to see if there’s progress, or if they’re moist enough, and so on. This year I plan to challenge myself and try to force some erythronium as well as hyacinth and tulips. (Maybe scilla again too.)

I’m sure there must be a few of you who do this; I know Carol of May Dreams does quite a few in hyacinth vases. Carol—or others—are there some tips I’ve forgotten?