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Indoor garden: forcing grape hyacinth (muscari) in water

Kimberly L. Jackson

My experiments with forcing spring flower bulbs in  water  began on Dec. 4, 2014 when I filled a round blue bowl-type vase about a third full with clear glass marbles, poured in enough water to cover the marbles, and set about two dozen of the small grape hyacinth (muscari) bulbs on top of them.


They were in my living room, which stays on the cooler side, between 55 to 60 degrees, as a little-used room. 


About five of the bulbs didn't sprout as quickly as the others, so I took those out and put four of them in a square vase with green marbles in the window of a sunny bedroom that was about 68 to 70 degrees on average.

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Indoor garden: forcing tulip bulbs in water 

Kimberly L. Jackson

Last winter I had success with growing three types of bulbs -- tulips, grape hyacinths (muscari) and amaryllis -- in plain water.

In each case, the bulbs were supported in vases of various sizes by marbles, smooth stones or faceted acrylic gems.

I got the idea from iBulb, the Dutch flower-bulb-promoting organization, which had a picture of larger hyacinths growing on smooth stones in shallow vases. 

I decided to try it with the three types of bulbs mentioned.

What follows is a streamlined guide to my process, which was mostly experimental with some guidance from the Lakewood, New Jersey bulb supplier Longfield Gardens, which provided my bulbs.



Start with clean vases and fillers. Use a weak bleach solution (2 teaspoons of bleach in a gallon of water) to clean vases and to soak all stones, marbles or other fillers for 10 minutes. Rinse well and dry.

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Indoor tulips in water: In bloom and safe from deer

The indoor tulips I've been growing in water opened today, bringing the effect of a wild-looking spring garden into my living room.

Unlike the grape hyacinths and amaryllis, the tulips didn't get weekly photo updates. (Did anyone miss them?) They were sort of like the second child: you love the kid, of course, but having already experienced all the "firsts" you forget (or are too exhausted) to record every milestone the second time around.

Like the grape hyacinths I grew previously, I was concerned the 'Suncatcher' tulips in water would not bloom. They had lived in my basement garage since December to get the chilling required to replicate winter in the ground. In early February, I filled three glass vases of different sizes with smooth stones and water and carefully set the bulbs on top. I brought them all up from the basement on April 3. They were tall, pale shoots that looked surprisingly healthy despite weeks without sun. I set them outside for a day hoping to green them up. It worked, but the stems and the leaves that grew from them still don't have the deep green color of tulips grown in the ground.

From memory, here's how they developed. The bulbs had already sprouted when I arranged them in the vases with the water level just touching their bottoms. After a few weeks, full, cream-colored roots that resemble miniature ramen noodles began to emerge. The sprouts grew thicker and taller, the wavy roots grew down between the rocks to get water.

Blue mold, a type common to tulips and other plants, attacked while the bulbs were in the basement. I swabbed it off one of them with a weak bleach solution on a cotton swab, but didn't have time to do the others.

One of the bulbs that produced a bright yellow flower edged in orange has a severe case, but apparently wasn't affected by the mold it is hosting. It's actually the same mold that is used to make penicillin. I'll be removing it, however, because it's probably not a good idea to risk having the mold spores released into my living room.

The plants are also exceptionally tall. When I brought them up from the basement, most were about 10 inches in height. Undoubtedly, it's from stretching to get some of the sun coming through a distant window. In the two weeks they've been near a sunny window, the tallest has grown to 18 inches. Not ideal, but still a pleasure to see. 

Beyond the happy feeling of success, the best thing is being able to enjoy my tulips without worry about the neighbohood deer making a meal of them.



Forcing amaryllis and muscari bulbs: An At Home Journal (Week 14)

My favorite arrangement of hydroponic grape hyacinths grown in water from their bulbs.Feb. 27: A Grape Hyacinth Cocktail:

This is the favorite of all my water-grown muscari bulb arrangements.

Grown from bulbs in a decorative cocktail glass filled with clear flat marbles and water, it made a very pretty gift, especially since these decided to bloom in these days when the ground is still covered with a thick blanket of snow.

While I don't really like the idea planting bulbs in pots of dirt to force them to bloom indoors, I like the ease of the water-only forcing technique.

As with my muscari arrangement in the larger blue bowl, their growth was attractive even before flowers formed. It took a bit longer for these bulbs to present flowers, probably because they were in a chilly area near a sliding glass door.

For me, part of the appeal for this arrangement is the way the roots formed a thick web through the marbles in the bowl of the glass. Some roots have even grown down into the base.

In the case of this arrangement and the larger blue bowl arrangement, the excitement of seeing the first blossom was multiplied when I checked a day or two later and there were five or six more.


A single muscari bulb blossomed in a glass bottle cap filled with four flat marbles and water.  Fill the bowl of a large decorative cocktail glass (or any clear glass vessel) with clear glass marbles and add enough water to come to the top of the marbles. With pointed side up, place as many grape hyacinth (muscari) bulbs on top as will fit. You can basically forget about them until they need more water. In about two weeks, the first green shoots should show, my flowers appeared after about three months.

The 'planting' technique, which also works with large amaryllis bulbs, can be found in detail  here. All the journal entries covering the previous weeks of growing can be found in the Gardening section of the site.

Thanks to Longfield Gardens in Lakewood, NJ for providing the bulbs that made my testing possible.  I'm especially grateful to co-owner Hans Langeveld who patiently answered all my questions on how to grow bulbs in water without one speck of dirt. The company did not pay me for these posts.

This will likely be my last entry about forcing bulbs until the end of March when it's time to bring up the tulip bulbs that are now chilling in my basement.



Forcing amaryllis and muscari bulbs: An At Home Journal (Weeks 12 - 13)

Amaryllis 'Splash' flowers open day by day. Smaller buds are developing at the center. Appropriately, the red and white flowers began to open on Valentine's Day.

 Feb 25:

Amaryllis 'Splash' opening. In the rush of activity, I am only now getting to the amaryllis photos, which I shot over several days starting Feb. 14. The first bloom was fully open by Feb. 18, and the second opened Feb. 23. 'Splash' is the largest, and was first to open of three amaryllis bulbs I grew in vases of water, starting all on Dec. 4 along with the indoor-blooming, water-grown grape hyacinth bulbs that have added so much beauty and excitement to my home over these last few cold and snowy weeks.

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