Spring bulbs: Hyacinths

Hyacinths are the most neglected of the ‘big three’ spring bulbs. Every garden has some daffodils and most people treat themselves to some tulips each year. But we tend to think of hyacinths as something to grow in a pot for Christmas. Too rarely are they used in our gardens. Hyacinths are relatively expensive so we can’t afford to use them throughout the shole garden but they are ideal for pots and for raised beds and you should be able to keep them to use the following year. 

Before going into details I want to address a few issues. 

It is often said that after flowering, prepared hyacinths can’t be kept, but that is nonsense. Although the ‘preparation’ process is a strain on the bulbs, if you look after them after flowering, they can be planted in the garden. Just look after them after flowering: either plant them straight out in the garden after flowering or put the pot outside and keep them watered until they naturally die down. Then replant them.

Hyacinths are as hardy as other spring bulbs. 

Hyacinths need sun. They are not the same as bluebells and if you want them to thrive in the garden they need as much sun as possible. 

Although blue, pink and white are the most common colours, there is a much wide range of shades including yellow (pale), red and orange. 

Double flowered hyacinths are just as easy to grow as the rest but tend to have fewer flowers per stem

You don’t need the largest bulbs to get a good effect. In fact, the larger the bulb, the bigger and more crowded the flower stem. And heavy, crowded spikes are more likely to fall over, so smaller bulbs can actually be better for garden display. 

Hyacinth bulbs do not split into small bulbs in the same way as tulips. This makes them more reliable for permanent planting in the garden. But they will split and produce numerous stems with looser clusters of flowers. This does not really affect their garden value. Thinner, looser flower spikes are actually better if you want to cut a few for the house.

Unlike daffodils and tulips, there is not much variation in flowering time with hyacinths. Most bloom, in the garden, at the end of March and start of April, though those in a sunny spot will flower earlier than some in a pot in a shady spot. But if planting in a pot to bring in the home, it is best to choose one variety for each pot and not plant a mixture, because there will be some variation in flowering time. Although hyacinths smell delightful, they are not pleasant as they ‘go over’ and you don’t want a mix of fresh and old flowers. 

It is too late now to plant prepared hyacinths for Christmas flowering. You will have to buy pots in bud in December. After planting the bulbs must be kept cool, and in the dark, for at least 10 weeks before they are brought into the light and heat for the flowers to open. Wait until the shoots are well through the neck of the bulbs before bringing them into the light, as shown in the photo. 

You can still plant some ‘ordinary’ hyacinths in pots for indoors but they will flower in January or February, a month or so before they will bloom in the garden. 

Treat yourself to some beautiful fragrant hyacinths now – you will be so glad you did when spring arrives.

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