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How to Grow Hyacinths for Spring Color


It’s no secret that I love hyacinths. I love their bright colors and luxurious blossoms in the spring. They have just one drawback – their intense scent. I once did a mass planting near my front door and had to use my back door until they finished because the scent was overpowering.

What are Hyacinths?

Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are spring flowering bulbs that are related to asparagus. They are native to Turkey and the Middle East. They were introduced to Europe in the 16th century where Dutch growers bred more than 2,000 cultivars by the 18th century.

Hyacinth bulbs contain oxalic acid which is known to cause itchy skin rashes. Always wear gloves when handling them and wash your hands afterwards. Oxalic acid is toxic when consumed so if children or pets eat them, get medical attention for them immediately.

On the other hand, the toxicity means that deer, rabbits, squirrels and ground hogs will not eat them.

Hyacinths are hardy in zones 4 – 8. The leaves emerge first in early to mid-spring about the same time as daffodils. They grow in a rosette, 6 inches tall and 4 – 9 inches wide. They are bright green and strappy.

Three weeks later the flowers start to open on the 8 – 10 inch stalk. Colors range from white to pink to red to yellow to apricot to blue to lavender to purple.

After the flowers have finished, the leaves remain manufacturing food for the bulb for next year’s flowers. The first year’s flowers are the largest and showiest. Subsequent years’ flowers are smaller and less showy. Most gardeners plant new bulbs each fall rather than allow the bulbs to decline over the years.

The leaves emerge first in the spring, followed by the flowers which will bloom three weeks later.

The leaves emerge first in the spring, followed by the flowers which will bloom three weeks later.

How to Plant Hyacinths

Hyacinths should be planted in the fall, 6 – 8 weeks before your first frost. I don’t plant mine that early. The soil is still too warm so the bulbs start to grow. I wait until the end of October when the soil has cooled in my NJ zone 6 garden to plant my bulbs. A good rule of thumb to use to determine if your soil is cool enough is to wait until your have had two weeks of 50°F nighttime temperatures.

Hyacinth bulbs should be planted 4 inches deep and 3 – 4 inches apart. In the coldest part of their hardiness growing area, zone 4, plant your bulbs deeper, 6 – 8 inches deep, to protect them from the soil freezing during the winter.

The bulbs look like Hershey Kisses with flat bottoms and pointy uppers. Plant your bulbs with the flat side down and pointed side up. The roots grow from the flat bottom while the leaves and flowers grow from the pointed side.

How to Grow Hyacinths

Hyacinths will grow and bloom in full sun to part shade. For the largest flowers, grow your plants in full sun.

Plant them in rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6 – 7. Drainage is important because if the soil is soggy or very wet, the bulbs will rot. Hyacinths are originally from the Middle East which is much dryer than North America. Water only during periods of prolonged drought.

There are many bulb fertilizers available. Most gardeners toss a handful into the hole when they plant their bulbs. If you are an organic gardener like me, all you really need is some bone meal.

After the bulbs finish blooming, cut off the flower stalks and discard them so that the plants can put their energy into making food for the bulbs instead of making seeds.

Resist the temptation to remove the leaves at the same time. They have an important job to do. Leave them in place so that they can make food for the bulbs for next year’s flowers. Only remove the leaves as they die. If you don’t like the way that they look, plant some late spring blooming perennials around them to hide the untidy foliage.

Hyacinths can be used in both formal and informal spring plantings.

Hyacinths can be used in both formal and informal spring plantings.

How to Divide Hyacinths

Hyacinths are not long-lived bulbs like daffodils. But they will multiply like daffodils. Plan on digging up your bulbs and dividing them every 3 years.

Mark where your bulbs are planted in the spring before the leaves die. In the fall, use a trowel to carefully dig up the bulbs that you marked for division in the spring.

The bulbs should have small bulbs attached to them. Gently break the baby bulbs off of the mother bulb. Plant your original bulbs and the baby bulbs 4 inches deep and 3 – 4 inches apart.

It may take 2 or 3 years before the small bulbs bloom. That’s how long it will take them to grow large enough to support flowers.

© 2021 Caren White


Caren White (author) on February 22, 2021:

You're welcome! You must be really looking forward to spring with all of this especially bad weather this year.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Hyacinths are one of my favorites! Our area is known for its lilacs. So spring is just a lovely fragrant season around here. Thanks for sharing more about these lovely blooms!

Caren White (author) on February 12, 2021:

They don't look like asparagus, do they? Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2021:

Your information about growing hyacinths is educational. I had no idea that they were related to the asparagus plant.

Caren White (author) on February 11, 2021:

You're welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 11, 2021:

Hyacinths are gorgeous flowers. Thank you for all of the good information in this article.