Today’s garden hyacinths (Hyacinthus Orientalis hybrids) are mainly cultivars which botanically belong to the lily family (Liliaceae). The natural habitat of the wild species Hyacinthus orientalis are rocky slopes and gravel fields in the Mediterranean and the Orient. In Turkey, Syria and Lebanon they grow at altitudes of up to 2,000 metres. Hyacinths have a long tradition as ornamental plants: the fragrant spring bloomers were already very popular in ancient times. They owe their name to Hyakinthos, who, according to Greek mythology, enchanted both humans and gods with his beauty. It was precisely this effect that the hyacinth had when it landed on the Dutch coast with a ship at the end of the 17th century and was immediately sold to the fine society of Europe.
Today hyacinths are available everywhere in the trade. Their colour spectrum has been broadened by the many newer cultivars and, in addition to the traditional varieties in blue, violet, pink and white, includes more unusual shades such as apricot, light yellow, golden yellow and purple red. The enthusiasm for the colourful spring messengers with the beguiling scent remains unbroken to this day.
Hyacinths can reach a height of 15 to 30 centimeters and form a strong and somewhat stocky central flower stem above the leaf head. Like all bulb flowers, they have a short vegetation period. Already in February the tips of the leaves surrounding the inflorescence become visible and in July the vegetation cycle is already finished.
The leaves of the hyacinth are basal and slightly fleshy. They envelop the lower part of the inflorescence and shine in a fresh light green. With a length of about 20 to 30 centimeters, they can, just like the flowers, develop a certain weight of their own, so that you have to ensure a secure foothold, especially in room culture.
The flower shaft sprouts simultaneously with the leaf rosette. It grows to a height of 20 to 30 centimeters and has a dense cluster of bell-shaped flowers at its end, which make hyacinths so popular. They exude an intense, sweetish, heavy fragrance and bloom from April to May. Thanks to the numerous hybrids, there are hardly any limits to the colours of the hyacinth flowers: they come in a wide variety of shades of white, pink, red, orange, blue or violet. Multicoloured and filled flowering varieties are also available.
Hyacinths prefer a sunny and warm location. If they stand protected, they can stand in the garden bed or in pots or boxes on balcony and terrace.
A well drained and airy mineral soil is ideal for hyacinths. However, they also thrive in humus- and nutrient-rich substrate, as long as it is not too moist.
The planting depth for hyacinth bulbs is around ten centimeters. In addition, make sure that there is sufficient planting distance to the neighbouring plant; 15 centimeters or more are optimal. The best time for planting is the last two weeks of October and November. For outdoor planting, usually cheaper bulbs with a circumference of about 15 centimeters are used. They do not develop such heavy inflorescences and grow beautifully upright. In heavy soils in particular, place a layer of sand at least five centimeters high under the onions as a drainage to prevent waterlogging. With a bamboo stick you should mark the planting places in autumn immediately.
During the growth phase hyacinths need a lot of moisture and nutrients. After heavy rain the already heavy flower clusters tend to fall down. Here a small supporting staff creates remedy. Withered inflorescences should be cut off before seed formation. Regular watering during dry periods is important during the growth phase so that the bulb flowers can form sufficient nutrients. Further cultivation is possible in two ways: In favourable locations with permeable, summer-dry soil, such as in rock gardens, you can simply leave the hyacinths in the soil for several years. In winter you should cover the planting places with brushwood or leaves and not miss to take off the winter cover in spring in time, because hyacinths sprout early. Although they bloom every year anew, the inflorescences become smaller and smaller with time. These are not signs of aging, but rather the natural growth form of the species. You can counteract this, however, by removing the bulbs – variant two – from the soil as soon as the leaves have dried up, cleaning them of the soil and keeping them dry, cool and dark until the next planting period. By the way: Hyacinths are slightly toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps when consumed. But this is more relevant for animals and pets than for humans. Occasionally we may experience allergic skin reactions after contact with the onions.
As the “queen of spring flowers”, hyacinths can be combined very well with spring shrubs such as the Bergenia (Bergenia), the loopflower (Iberis) or the lungwort (Pulmonaria). Also in company of other spring-flowering plant-partners like Vergissmeinnicht (Myosotis), Maßliebchen (Bellis) or Garten-Stiefmütterchen (Viola-Wittrockiana-Hybrids), they do well. Beside sun-loving shrubs like Forsythie (Forsythia), rock pear (Amelanchier) or ornamental cherries (Prunus) one can set them also very beautifully in scene. Although each plant is a feast for the eyes, hyacinths are particularly effective in groups and adorn spring beds, borders and plant pots. Simply arrange different hybrids together to create appealing colour patterns. Hyacinths play an important role especially in driving. The magnificent inflorescences can already be lured out of the bulbs in winter with little effort – and thus spread a hint of spring in the house at Christmas. For this, onions pre-treated with cold are used, so-called Treibhyazinthen. They are placed on special drift glasses with a narrowed neck to support the onions. Hyacinth onions for indoor cultivation should have a circumference of about 18 centimeters.
Another tip: As cut flowers you can use hyacinths for wonderfully fragrant spring bouquets.
The varieties of hyacinths are characterised above all by one thing: colour diversity. Depending on your personal taste, you can choose the red variety ‘Amsterdam’, the apricot ‘Gipsy Queen’ or the bright yellow ‘Yellow Hammer’. Also the blue ‘Blue Jacket’ or the white ‘Carnegie’ are very popular and widespread. Some varieties smell so intense that a single hyacinth is enough to fill an entire room with their scent. A special feature are the so-called multi-flora hyacinths: from each bulb grow about five to seven inflorescences, so that the plant looks like a bound, dense bouquet of flowers. Multiflora hyacinths flower very early and are best cultivated outdoors in pots and bowls.
The above-ground plant parts of the bulb flowers die off after the flowering period. This is also what happens in summer with the leaves and flowers of the hyacinths. After this so-called “retraction” one can detach small brood-onions from the onions. These are then replanted in autumn. After its initially still rather sparse bloom, the bulbs are taken out of the earth again annually and new brood bulbs are removed. After being used again in autumn, they flower more abundantly in spring, until after a while, about two to three years, they are just as abundantly in bloom as the commercial hyacinths. In order for hyacinths to form breeding bulbs, however, good cultivation conditions are important – above all sufficient water and nutrients during the growth phase as well as summer-dry, airy soil. Recommendation: Cut the bulb soil cross-shaped and very deep before planting – this stimulates the formation of brood bulbs. In the case of wild species, propagation by sowing is also possible, but this cultivation method is much longer. It takes at least three years for hyacinths propagated by sowing to flower for the first time. Therefore, this method plays a role practically only in plant breeding.
Diseases and pests
Bulb flowers such as hyacinths tend to develop diseases especially in spring after budding. Inspect them regularly to remove infected specimens immediately. One of the most frequently occurring fungal diseases is grey mould (Botrytis). The damage is manifested in brown spots on leaves and stems. With a good and above all airy and not too damp location an infestation can be avoided as a rule. But also voles, aphids or snails like to eat the onions.
In an interview with our store editor Dieke van Dieken, plant doctor René Wadas reveals his tips against aphids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
Hyacinths in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.