Hyacinths are spring-flowering bulbs that are treasured by gardeners for their heavenly fragrance. Please enjoy this helpful information from the National Garden Bureau along with tips from my Niagara garden.
Overview and history
Flower lovers began cultivating hyacinths more than 400 years ago. During the 18th century, they were the most popular spring bulbs in the world, and Dutch growers offered more than 2,000 named cultivars. Today, there are less than 50 cultivars in commercial production, but the hyacinth’s beauty and sweet perfume are as enchanting as ever.
Commonly called Dutch hyacinths or garden hyacinths, they are hybrids of a single species (Hyacinthus orientalis) that grows wild in Turkey, Syria and other areas in the eastern Mediterranean.
Basic types and variety names
Today’s garden hyacinths look very different from the wild species. After centuries of breeding, they have taller flower spikes and much larger, mostly double florets that are tightly packed along the stem. Each hyacinth bulb produces a single 20- to 30-centimetre tall flower stalk and four to six strappy leaves. The blossoms open in mid-spring, at the same time as daffodils and early tulips.
Hyacinths come in rich, saturated colours. The most popular cultivars are shades of purple and blue, which include Blue Jacket (royal blue), Delft Blue (cerulean), and Aida (violet-blue). Other colours are equally lovely and suggest lots of creative pairings. These include Woodstock (burgundy), Jan Bos (hot pink), Aiolos (white), Gypsy Queen (peach) and City of Haarlem (pale yellow).
How to grow hyacinths in the garden
Hyacinth bulbs are planted in mid- to late fall, at the same time as tulips and daffodils. Choose a planting location with well-drained soil that never gets soggy. Full sun is best, though hyacinths will also grow in light shade. Plant the bulbs in groups of five or more, spaced about 15 cm apart on centre, and buried 10 to 12 cm deep. In hardiness zones 6 and warmer, hyacinths grow well in outdoor containers, on their own or mixed with other spring bulbs. Consider planting extra hyacinth bulbs to cut and enjoy indoors.
Like tulips, hyacinths always look their best the first spring after planting. For this reason, many gardeners plant fresh bulbs every year or two. While the bulbs will usually re-bloom for several years, they will gradually revert to the original species, with single florets that are widely spaced along the stem.
I avoided planting hyacinths or recycling potted bulbs for many years because I’d read that the flowers look sparse in subsequent years. I’ve since given them a try, and I don’t mind the gentler blooms, the relaxed flower spikes look right at home in my borders.
To help the bulbs save energy for future flowers, cut off the flower stalks after the blossoms fade and allow the foliage to grow until it dies back in early summer.
Garden tips for hyacinths
Plant hyacinth bulbs where it will be easy to enjoy their fragrance: plant them in spring themed planters near a doorway or along a garden path.
Hyacinth bulbs can cause mild skin irritation. Wear gloves when planting them or wash your hands after handling them.
Hyacinth bulbs contain oxalic acid, which makes them unappealing to chipmunks and voles as well as deer.
Hyacinths are long-lasting cut flowers that will perfume an entire room. Plant some bulbs in your vegetable or cutting garden so you can cut and share the blooms.
Hyacinths flower in early to mid-spring at the same time as emperor and double early tulips, mid-season daffodils, chionodoxa, scilla and grape hyacinth (muscari).
Encourage hyacinths to bloom for more than one year by cutting off the flower spikes as soon as the flowers fade.
Top dress the planting bed with bagged manure or compost in the spring to feed the bulb and encourage strong growth.
Recycling potted hyacinths
Potted hyacinths are often sold with other spring-blooming bulbs — they make great additions to spring planters for the patio or front entrance. Group hyacinths together in a pastel rainbow of colours, or plant them with daffodils and early tulips in spring themed planters.
After the hyacinth bulbs have finished blooming, cut back the flower stems and then lift the bulbs from your planter and plant them in the garden. I look for potted hyacinths in the spring (looking for different colours), enjoy them in my outdoor planters and then move them to the garden when they have finished blooming. After a few years, I’ve collected a rainbow of pastel coloured hyacinths that put on a reliable show every spring. This strategy also works for potted daffodils.
Plant hyacinths toward the middle of a perennial border, rather than right up front. They will show up just fine, the middle section of a border is exposed in the spring, as the season progresses, the foliage will be concealed by the emerging foliage of perennials. Good companions include catmint (Nepeta sub. ‘Dropmore Hybrid’), cranesbills (Geranium sanguineum) and dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hamelin’)