One of the loveliest scents of spring comes from hyacinths in blooms. Even at a distance, you'll notice these flowers' intense fragrance and spikes of bright colors. Introduced to Europe during the 16th century, hyacinth's popularity sparked Dutch bulb growers to breed more than 2,000 cultivars by the 18th century, and today there are about 60 to choose from in commercial cultivation.
Modern hyacinths are some of the easiest-to-grow spring bulbs—they can be planted in the ground or pots, or grown in water in a bulb vase, no soil required. Hyacinths are best planted in early fall and will grow slowly, emerging as shoots in the spring.
|Botanical Name||Hyacinthus orientalis|
|Common Name||Hyacinth, common hyacinth, Dutch hyacinth, garden hyacinth|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, and 3–6 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||White, blue, purple, pink, red|
|Hardiness Zones||4–8 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
For the strongest and farthest-reaching scent, grow hyacinth in large blocks. Hyacinths also mix well with other 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.
Most varieties of hyacinth bulbs are fairly large. For spring garden blooms, plant hyacinth bulbs in the fall six to eight weeks before the first frost. They should be placed root-end-down (widest side), about 4 inches deep. Give them some room to spread out by spacing them about 3 to 4 inches apart. Cover with soil, and water well.
There are taller varietals that can tend to flop—you can stake them if you only have a few, or plant them closer together so that they support one another. Once the bulbs have finished blooming, cut off the flower stalks (leave the leaves) to encourage the plants to store energy in their bulbs.
Plant your hyacinth bulbs in a spot that boasts full sun or 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. You should aim to give the plants at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
Hyacinth bulbs are not particular about soil pH, but they do best in soil that is loose and well-drained and will not tolerate wet soils. Rich soil can lead to floppy stalks, so go easy on the organic matter when preparing or amending the soil.
Water the ground well after you plant the bulbs. Continue watering into winter if there is no regular rain, but allow the ground to dry out between watering. If the bulbs sit in cool, wet soil, they will eventually rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Hyacinth can be expected to survive the winter in USDA plant hardiness zones four through eight. They may need some winter protection in zones lower than four, and some pre-chilling in zones above eight, depending on the variety. Dig up the bulbs where winter temperatures remain above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and chill them somewhere dark and cold for six to 10 weeks. Unfortunately, hyacinth bulbs are short-lived and will probably last only three or four years. Many people treat them as tender perennials and replace them yearly due to decline.
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 an ordinary bone meal. Feed the bulbs at planting and again in the spring when the new growth first appears by scratching some bulb food into the nearby soil and watering well.
Are Hyacinths Toxic?
Hyacinth bulbs contain oxalic acid, which can cause a skin reaction in some people. If you are sensitive, wear gloves when handling the bulbs. Oxalic acid is also toxic when eaten, so seek care for humans or pets that eat the bulbs. If you notice any of the below symptoms, contact medical services immediately.
Symptoms of Poisoning in Humans
- Skin irritation
- Rash or hives
- Upset stomach
Symptoms of Poisoning in Animals
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Mouth irritation
- Pawing at the mouth
Hyacinth bulbs don't usually live for more than about three or four 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 their locations while they're still in bloom.
Potting and Repotting Hyacinths
When planting in pots, hyacinth bulbs can be spaced more closely than when planting 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 in between to hold water.
Keep the soil damp but not soaking 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.
If you are potting hyacinth indoors for forcing early blooms, you will either need to purchase pre-chilled bulbs or pre-chill them yourself.
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 commercial rodent deterrents. An easier method is to interplant them with daffodils, which rodents tend to avoid.
Wisdom, Michelle M., Richardson, Michael D., Karcher, Douglas E., Steinkraus, Donald C., McDonald, Garry V. Flowering Persistence and Pollinator Attraction of Early-Spring Bulbs in Warm-Season Lawns. HortScience, 54,10,1853-1859, 2019, doi:10.21273/HORTSCI14259-19
dos Reis, Vitor Manoel Silva. Dermatoses Caused By Plants (Phytodermatoses). Anais Braeileiros de Dermatologia, 85, 4, 2010, doi:10.1590/S0365-05962010000400009
Hyacinthus Orientalis. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
How Can I Keep Wildlife From Eating My New Bulbs?. University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension