Hyacinths

Hyacinths provide stunning spring displays of fragrant blooms both in the garden and containers. You can have hyacinths flowering for Christmas, if you plant specially ‘prepared’ bulbs.

Hyacinth

Quick facts

Common name Hyacinth
Botanical name Hyacinthus orientalis
Group Bulb
Flowering time Spring; but can be forced to flower earlier indoors
Planting time Early autumn
Height and spread 20-30cm (8–12in) by 7.5cm (3in)
Aspect Sun or partial shade
Hardiness Fully hardy in the ground but can be frost-tender in containers
Difficulty Easy

Cultivation notes

Outdoors

  • Hyacinths prefer well-drained, moderately fertile soil, in full sun
  • Bulbs should be planted in early autumn for flowering in March and April
  • Plant 10cm (4in) deep and a minimum of 7.5cm (3in) apart
  • Blooms should be removed as soon as they begin to brown, but the leaves should be allowed to die back naturally
  • Bulbs can be lifted once all foliage has died and stored in a cool dry place
  • Bulb performance and flower quality usually falls off from the year after planting as the spectacular flowering of fresh bulbs are due to the fertile conditions under which they are grown and post-harvest heat treatment that induces dense spikes of large flowers

Containers

  • Any good potting medium can be used including a mix of two parts John Innes No 2 potting compost mixed with one part grit or coarse sand. Bulb fibre is used where containers lack drainage holes
  • Place containers on ‘pot feet’ (or bricks) to ensure good drainage and wrap containers with bubble plastic to prevent frost damage
  • Plant bulbs 10cm (4 in) and 7.5cm (3in) apart
  • As the buds swell, place the containers where they can be appreciated close to the house or inside, on a windowsill in a cool room
  • Once the flowers have faded, the containers should be returned to a sheltered spot in the garden and fed
  • Reduce watering once the leaves begin to die off and lift and store the bulbs

Indoor displays

Specially ‘prepared’ (heat-treated) bulbs should be bought if you want blooms for Christmas (click on this link for the practical advice on growing for Christmas-flowering bulbs).

Propagation

Hyacinth cultivars must be increased by vegetative propagation methods. They reproduce slowly by offsets, but the bulbs can be propagated by twin-scaling, chipping or scooping.

Scooping

  1. With scooping, all of the basal plate of a healthy, dormant bulb is scooped out using a sterilised, sharpened teaspoon or scalpel, leaving the outer rim intact
  2. Place scooped bulbs, with the base uppermost, on a layer of moist, coarse sand in a dark, warm place, like an airing cupboard
  3. Bulbs should be checked regularly for disease and the sand kept moist
  4. Bulblets form on the exposed edge of the scales (i.e. in the scooped section) after three months
  5. In late autumn plant the mother bulb (with bulblets attached) the right way up, outside in a free bed and cover with 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of soil
  6. In early summer, after the leaves of the mother bulb have died down, carefully lift the new bulbs which will be the size of peas or small marbles (note: the old mother bulb will have rotted away). Line out the bulbs in beds, lifting and replanting each year until they are full size

Cultivar Selection

In 2008, a hyacinth trial was conducted at RHS Garden Wisley and a number of cultivars were awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). These include:

'Yellow Queen' AGM: Considered the best yellow hyacinth with a very even flower spike. Height 30cm (12in); inflorescence 17cm (6¾in) height, 7.5cm (3in) width, exterior yellow with white mid-rib cream-yellow and scented.

 'Miss Saigon' AGM: A lovely, compact plant with deep wine-coloured flower spikes. Height 20cm (8in); inflorescence 15cm (6in) height, 9cm (3½in) width. Flowers vivid purple and scented.

'Jan Bos' AGM: Flowers have a distinct, reddish-pink colour; the stems stay upright when grown in the open ground. Foliage glaucous green, inflorescence 15cm (6in) high, 6.5cm (2½in) wide, stem brownish red.

Links

RHS Plant Selector
RHS Plant Finder
RHS Trials, AGMs

Problems

All parts of hyacinths, if ingested cause stomach upset and gloves should be worn when handling the bulbs as they may aggravate skin allergies. See the profile on harmful plants for more information. Slugs can be a problem during mild periods and bulbs that show any sign of disease should be destroyed to prevent the disease spreading. Likewise, protection against squirrels is wise.

 

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