Grape Hyacinths - Growing Muscari Bulbs

Grape Hyacinths, Muscari Bulbs
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Grape hyacinths, so named because of the tight little clusters that resemble grapes, aren’t really hyacinths at all. That’s fine, because these petite spring flowering bulbs outshine true hyacinths in vigor. Regardless of plant taxonomy and who is related to what, grape hyacinths are little garden workhorses that can light up the early spring flower garden for years with little care.

Many varieties of grape hyacinths display that rare crystal blue color so many gardeners covet, without the fussiness some blue flowers possess. However, the white, pink and yellow muscari types are also welcome in the garden for contrast when planted with the blue types.

Get to Know Grape Hyacinths

Although the Muscari genus was previously categorized in the Liliaceae family, it is now considered to be part of the Asparagaceae, or asparagus family. Look at other members of this family to observe superficial similarities: lily-of-the-valley, brodiaea lily, and asparagus plants also have flowering umbels that emerge from a central stalk. Some gardeners describe the tightly packed florets of grape hyacinths as looking like an upside down vase on a stem. In most varieties, each floret looks like a little grape on a short stem, with dozens of these little stems attached to a central stalk.

Grape hyacinths bloom in April or May, with blooms lasting for about three week. The plants grow six to ten inches tall in partial to full sun. 

How to Plant Grape Hyacinths

Like most spring flowering bulbs, the planting time for muscari is fall. Muscari grow best in zones 4 to 8. Choose a site with average soil that drains well. Grape hyacinth bulbs will rot if planted in a site that remains wet.

One of the appealing traits of this bulb is the ease with which you can plant it. Space the bulbs approximately three inches apart, planting about 20 bulbs per square foot. The bulbs require a depth no greater than about three to four inches, so you can take out a spade full of soil and plant a few bulbs at a time, making it possible to install a large drift in under an hour. If you wish to try your luck with the bulbs in zone 3, plant them five inches deep and provide mulch cover to help them perennialize. Grape hyacinth bulbs form ever-enlarging colonies over the years, but the plants are not invasive.

Grape Hyacinth Care

After grape hyacinths are finished blooming, they produce circular green seed pods that can linger well into summer. Remove these pods when the blooms are finished to allow the plant to direct its energy into the following year’s blooms. You can also shear the foliage when it starts to yellow.

Unlike many spring blooming bulbs, muscari bulbs produce grass-like foliage late in the summer, and this foliage stays evergreen until the plants finish blooming in the spring. You must leave this foliage in place to nourish the plant; only during the onset of summer dormancy is it OK to remove muscari leaves.

Forcing and Container Growing

Muscari in Containers
Ellen van Bodegom/Getty Images 

Buy enough muscari bulbs to force some for indoor flowering in containers. The bulbs need about four months of pre-chilling before they are ready to bloom. Bulbs need temperatures of about 40 degrees F to achieve the dormancy that will lead to growth, so the refrigerator is a perfect place to force your muscari.

Garden Design With Grape Hyacinths

Like most small flowering bulbs, grape hyacinths look best when planted in large quantities. Start with a grouping of at least 25 for a small garden or container. In an average sized suburban garden, plant drifts of at least 100 in the flower garden, or scattered beneath trees and shrubs.

An ambitious, but stunning grape hyacinth planting is to install the bulbs in a meandering serpentine pattern. Closely planting these low-growing blue flowers in this way mimics a river or stream in your landscape.

Bees are mad about the little blue flowers. Use this to your benefit by planting them near early blooming fruit trees that need pollination.

Grape hyacinth bulbs work well in rock gardens. They don’t mind high altitudes, a full day of harsh sun, or dry conditions. Create a layered look by underplanting daffodils with muscari bulbs. Plant about five muscari bulbs for every daffodil.

Grape Hyacinth Varieties

Valerie Finnis Grape Hyacinth
'Valerie Finnis' Grape Hyacinth. James A. Guilliam/Getty Images 
Grape Hyacinth 'Mount Hood'
Grape Hyacinth 'Mount Hood'. Anne Green-Armytage/Getty Images 

Grape hyacinths offer many twists on the traditional deep blue cluster form. Look for unusual or heirloom varieties in bulb specialty catalogs.

Because grape hyacinth bulbs are inexpensive, it pays to buy premium bulbs that are at least eight or nine centimeters in diameter. These large bulbs will produce four or five flower stalks per bulb, as compared to two or three flower stalks per bulb from the bargain bin. Don't worry that these large bulbs will sound the dinner bell to pests, because unlike tulip bulbs, grape hyacinth bulbs are rarely bothered by rodents.

  • Album: Pair this pure white variety with blue muscari
  • Blue Magic: Fragrant, periwinkle blue heirloom
  • Feather Hyacinth: Cheerful frizzy masses of purple petals
  • Golden Fragrance: Loosely grouped yellow florets with purple-tinged caps
  • Mount Hood: A bicolor type, vivid blue with a white cap
  • Ocean Magic: Dark blue flower base gradually fades to white caps
  • Tassel: Heirloom features the standard cluster shape topped with a perky purple spray
  • Valerie Finnis: Otherworldly pale blue hue seems to glow