How to Care for Hyacinths
Although hyacinths are traditionally planted in the fall and bloom in mid-spring, gardeners can also plant the bulb indoors at any time of the year. Common colors of hyacinths include purple, pink, blues, white, and yellow. Although hyacinths grown indoors are often planted in forcing jars with water (and no soil), the bloom does equally well in containers and garden beds alike. If choosing to force hyacinths, you need to have about 6 weeks of prep time before you can expect blooms to appear.
How to Plant Outdoors
- Select a location with well-draining, fertile soil.
- Don a pair of gloves when handling bare bulbs, as they contain “calcium oxalate” a toxic chemical.
- Inspect bulbs for rot or decay, discard any bulbs that look compromised.
- Dig a hole about 4 inches deep, spaced about 3 inches apart. For cooler hardiness zones, plant the bulb deeper, about 6 to 8 inches deep, to keep it better insulated from the cold. Plant at least 5 hyacinths in odd-numbered groups for best effect.
- Place the bulb in the hole with the pointy end up, and the tiny hairs downward.
- Cover the bulb with soil, and tamp it down for a good rooting.
- Water the newly planted bulb thoroughly at planting.
- Apply 1 to 3 inches of mulch to protect the soil during freezing winter temperatures.
- Expect hyacinths to bloom mid spring, around the time iris and peonies bloom.
How to Plant in a Pot
Things you’ll need:
- Wide, shallow pot
- Select a wide, shallow pot; drainage holes are unnecessary.
- Add about 2 inches of potting soil to the base of the pot.
- Inspect bulbs, and select only those that firm and plump, and free from rot. Set the hyacinth bulb on the soil, with the pointy end facing up. Group an odd number of bulbs together near the center of the pot. The bulbs should be set close together, but not touching anything else.
- Add more soil to the pot, so that they are almost completely covered. Tamp down soil gently.
- Water the bulbs thoroughly.
- Place the pot in a brown paper bag, and roll up the top so the bulb isn’t exposed to light.
- Set the covered pot in a cold location (about 35 to 45 degrees F) for 12 to 14 weeks.
- Gradually expose the pots to light over a period of a few days. When the bulb has sprouted to about 3 to 5 inches high you can place the pot in a sunny window permanently to encourage blooming.
- Rotate the pot a little each day so the hyacinths don’t lean toward the sun.
How to Force Hyacinth Bulbs
Things you’ll need:
- Hyacinth bulbs
- Cool location
- Forcing jars
The benefit of forcing hyacinth bulbs is that you can choose when to view the mature blooms. Count back 6 weeks from when you want to have the blooms and plant the pre-chilled blooms in a forcing jar. Alternately, you’ll need to chill your own bulbs in a cool, dark location for 8 to 12 weeks. Temps should be between 35 to 45 degrees F. If you chill the bulbs in a refrigerator, avoid placing them next to apples, as apples can release a gas causing rot.
- Inspect bulbs for rot, and discard any compromised bulbs. Only plant bulbs in the best condition. Look for firm, plump bulbs.
- Fill the lower portion of a forcing jar (shaped like an hour glass with a shortened top) with water.
- Place one bulb into each forcing jar. The water line shouldn’t touch the bulb when placed inside the jar, remove water from the jar if necessary, until the waterline is about ¼ inch below the bottom of the bulb.
- Place the bulb-filled jar in a cool, dark location, no higher than 50 degree F, until the plant starts to root. This should take about 10 weeks.
- Monitor water levels, and replace water as necessary so that the water level is always close to the bulb, but not touching it.
- Move the jars from the cool location to a sunny window when the shoots are about 2 inches tall and the root systems reaches the bottom of the glass. Don’t move the forcing jar suddenly; relocate the jar to its new location over a period of a few days. It should take about 2 to 3 weeks for the bulb to sprout.
- Ensure that the new location has indirect, bright sunlight; but that the location temperature doesn’t exceed more than 65 degrees F. Rotate the jar a little bit every day so that the blooms don’t lean in the direction of the sun. Your bulb should fully bloom in another 2 to 3 weeks.
- Discard the bulb after the bloom is spent. Forced blooms don’t tend to bloom well in subsequent years.
Protect container-grown hyacinths from extreme winter weather by bringing them inside, keeping them covered, or by moving them to a sheltered area.
For hyacinths planted in the garden, cut back spent blooms with sterilized snippers at the end of the growing season, but allow the stem to wither back naturally. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that the leaves help the plant gather energy for blooming the following year.
Remove bulbs from the soil once the plant has completely died back. Store bulbs in a cool, dark, dry location until you are ready to plant again in the fall, or discard the bulb and plant new bulbs the following year. Old bulbs tend to product weaker, thinner hyacinths.
Hyacinths contain the chemical compound calcium oxalate, which can be toxic. Keep the bulbs out of reach of pets and young children, and consider handling them while wearing gloves to limit a burning sensation.
Like other bulbs, hyacinths are susceptible to root rot, so monitor moisture levels. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet.
Basal rot is often caused by warm, moist soil and is identified by the foliage dying back prematurely. Avoid manure and excessive nitrogen to keep basal rot at bay.
The Mosaic virus is identified by blooms with broken or streak colors. Only use sterilized equipment with your hyacinths, and control aphids, which commonly spread the disease. Dig up and discard plants affected with mosaic virus to limit the spread.
The Narcissus fly mostly affects bulbs in storage, and tends to attach only damaged bulbs. Discard bulbs with the small maggots. Limit infestation by storing hyacinth bulbs in a separate location from other plants, particularly snowdrops and daffodils that tend to host the narcissus fly.
Critters such as squirrels and chipmunks like to dig up bulbs and nibble on hyacinth blooms. Control critters with a physical barrier such as a cylinder planted in the ground around the bulb, or with a screen over the growing flower.