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Hyacinth Plants - Planting, Growing and Caring for Hyacinths

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Hyacinth Flowers

Looking closely, you can see the tubular, lily shape of the individual hyacinth flowers.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description:

It might be surprising to learn that Hyacinths are in the lily family, but if you look closely at the individual flowers you'll see that they are tubular shaped. And even at a distance you'll notice their intense fragrance. Dutch bulb growers have been breeding hyacinths since the 17th century and there are thousands of varieties to choose from.

Description

Hyacinthus is a small genus of bulbous flowers. Hyacinthus orientalis is the species from which all of the cultivars are derived. The Roman and Multiflora cultivars tend to have looser flowers than the more commonly grown Dutch hyacinth, with their large, dense flower clusters.

You may be familiar with the genus Muscari, Grape Hyacinth. These are not true hyacinth and are no longer even considered part of the lily family. They've been moved to Asparagaceae, so they are not covered here.

Latin Name:

Hyacinthus orientalis cultivars

Common Name:

Hyacinth, Dutch Hyacinth

Hardiness Zones:

USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9. They will need some winter protection in Zones lower than 5 and some pre-chilling in Zones above 7, depending on the variety.

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade. As with all spring bulbs, hyacinths sprout, bloom and start to fade into dormancy before deciduous trees fully leaf out, so you don't have to worry about too much shade from nearby trees.

Mature Size:

6-12 inches (h) x 4-9 inches (w)

Bloom Period

Late Winter - Early Spring

Suggested Varieties:

  • Hyacinth Orientalis 'Blue Jacket' - A rich bluish-purple with single flowers

  • Hyacinth Orientalis 'Carnegie' - Pure white, single flowers

  • Hyacinth Orientalis 'City of Haarlem' - Single, buttery-yellow flowers

  • Hyacinth Orientalis 'Delft Blue' - Single soft blue flowers

  • Hyacinth Orientalis 'Jan Bos' - Deep, fuchsia colored single flowers

Design Suggestions:

Large blocks of hyacinth will give you the strongest and farthest reaching scent. Hyacinth blooms can look a little unnatural when there are only one or two of them, but they mix well with any of the spring blooming bulbs, since they come in so many colors and sizes. Their spiky flower stalks make a nice counterpoint to cup shaped tulips and ruffled daffodils.

The smaller Roman and Mutiflora cultivars look a bit more natural and can be used in woodland settings or along walkways.

And hyacinth bulbs are easy to plant or force in pots. The large bulbs and sturdy stems are also wonderful grown in water, in a bulb vase - no soil required.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Hyacinth bulbs are not particular about soil pH, but they do best in a soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. They will not tolerate wet soils.

Planting Hyacinth Bulbs in the Ground:Hyacinth bulbs contain a substance that can cause an itchy skin reaction in some people. If you are sensitive, where gloves when handling the bulbs.

Most varieties of hyacinth bulbs are fairly large. Plant them pointed end up, about 3 times as deep as they are wide. For most, this will be 7-8 inches deep. They can be planted less deeply in warmer areas, where they will need to be dug and chilled, if you want them to bloom again. Give them some room to spread out by spacing them about 5-6 inches apart.

The easiest way to feed new bulbs is to toss some bulb food into the hole at planting time. There are many fertilizers available for feeding bulbs or you can use plain old bone meal.

Planting Hyacinth Bulbs in Pots: Hyacinth bulbs need a chilling period, in order to bloom. If you pot and plant them outdoors, this shouldn't be a problem. If you are potting them indoors, for forcing, you will either need to purchase pre-chilled bulbs or pre-chill them yourself.

The bulbs can be spaced more closely in pots than in the ground, because the bulbs won't need room to multiply. You can squeeze them in so they are almost touching, but leave room for some soil to hold water.

Keep the soil damp, but not wet, until the bulbs sprout. Then water whenever the soil dries out. Once the bulbs have sprouted, move them to indirect sunlight. Cool temperatures will keep them in bloom longer. More tips on forcing bulbs into bloom. http://houseplants.about.com/od/foliageplants/p/Hyacinth-Growing-Hyacinth-Indoors.htm

Maintenance:

Water the ground well, after you plant the bulbs. Continue watering into winter, if there is not regular rain. Allow the ground to dry out between waterings, so the bulbs do not rot.

Some of the taller varieties will flop. You could stake them, if you onlu have a few. Otherwise consider planting them closer, to support each other. Rich soil has been blamed for floppy hyacinth, so go easy on the organic matter.

Once the bulbs have finished blooming, cut off the flower stalks so the plants efforts can go into storing energy in the bulb. Alternatively, you could run your hand up the stalk and knock off the flowers. Don't remove the leaves until they have started to turn yellow.

Feed the bulbs each spring, when the new growth first appears, buy scratching some bulb food into the nearby soil and watering well.

Propagating Hyacinths:Hyacinth bulbs don't usually live for more than about 3-4 years. If you'd like to propagate more hyacinth bulbs, wait until late summer and gently lift the bulbs. Remove the small offsets forming around the edges of the bulbs and replant everything, including the original bulbs. Be patient, because it will take a few years for the offsets to bloom. Since the plants can disappear in mid-summer, mark where they are, while they're still in bloom.

Pests & Problems:

The biggest hazard for hyacinth bulbs are rot and rodents. Make sure the soil is able to drain between waterings and rain. If the bulbs sit in cool, wet soil, they will eventually rot.

All kinds of rodents will munch on hyacinth bulbs. You can protect them somewhat by throwing a handful of gravel into the planting hole or you can try deterrents. An easier method is to inter-plant them with daffodils, which rodents tend to avoid.

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