Blue hyacinths in full, fragrant bloom.

As the seed catalogs arrive, I get the urge to do some gardening. The only thing that stands in my way is a foot of snow.

Hyacinth bulbs that have already been chilled

It’s a little early for seedstarting. So, to satisfy my desire for the smell of moist earth, I’ve potted up some hyacinth bulbs, which should bloom in a few weeks. My garden center offers bulbs that have already been chilled for 12 to 14 weeks, so they’re ready to go. Many bulbs — including hyacinths, tulips and daffodils — require a cold period to trigger the blooming cycle. Chilling the bulbs replicates the winter cold they would get if they were grown outdoors.

The technique is called “forcing,” and it works with many bulbs, and with branches from deciduous trees and shrubs, such as pussy willows. For details on this technique, Read Growing Bulbs Indoors, which has a list of bulbs that can be forced easily, along with chilling times.

Forcing vases, which are designed for growing a single bulb.

If you can’t get bulbs that are already chilled, start with some that don’t need it, such as amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus. All you have to do is plant them and they’ll start growing.

David Grist, Gardener’s Supply