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The saying goes, "Buy hyacinths to feed the soul." When you're deep in the winter doldrums and spring looks like it will never arrive, a pot of blooming, fragrant hyacinths can raise your spirits, and yes, feed your soul.

Hyacinths are among the easiest bulbs to force out of their spring comfort zone.

Purchase pre-chilled bulbs. Hyacinths need an extended cold period and without pre-chilling, the process can take 12 to 14 weeks. Chilling reduces the wait to eight to 10 weeks. Potting now will reward the recipient with welcome, fragrant blooms in late winter.

Select a clean, decorative container. Plant bulb in potting soil, pointy end up. If you're planting multiples, nestle bulbs close together. A 6-inch pot should hold three bulbs. Fill in with potting soil around the bulbs. Water thoroughly.

Label the pot with variety name and projected date for removing the pot from cold storage. When giving as a gift, include these instructions: Place pot in a cool, dark place between 40 and 48 F. Water regularly and take care not to expose the bulb to light. (Don't store with fruit or the gas produced by ripening can cause the flower to bloom before it is fully developed.) When time's up, place the pot in indirect sunlight at about 60 F. Blooming should begin in three or four weeks.

You don't need soil to force hyacinths into bloom. Try forcing in water. It's fascinating to watch roots unfurl, grow, twist and wind themselves around and finally, the scented stalk appears.

Old-fashioned, hourglass-shaped hyacinth vases or any glass container that can support the bulb are perfect for the project. The bulb should sit above, but not touch, the water. Add more water as needed. Place the jar in a dark place where the temperature is about 40 F. When the root system forms, move it to a warm location in indirect light. It will bloom in about 6 weeks.

Hyacinth varieties considered easy to force include: "Delft Blue," "Blue Star," "Blue Jacket," blue; "Pink Pearl," "Anna Marie," "Lady Darby," pink: "Jan Box," reddish pink; "White Pearl," "L'Innocence," "Carnegie," white; "Anna Liza," violet; "Amethyst," lilac purple; "Yellow Queen," "City of Haarlem," yellow.

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