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How to grow hyacinths

Val Bourne / 30 November 2011 ( 01 October 2018 )

Hyacinths make wonderful indoor plants in the dark days of winter or at the beginning of spring, and can be planted outside once finished flowering.

Mulit-coloured hyacinths growing in a container
Hyacinths come in a range of colours that includes traditional pinks, blues and white

The waxy, fragrant flower spikes of hyacinths can either be cut for the house or the flowering bulbs can be arranged in bowls and baskets for beautiful indoor colour during early spring.

Where to position hyacinths

These can be placed in the house, or in a cool porch or conservatory for these luscious looking flowers generously release their fragrance in low temperatures as well as in warmth.

In fact, a pot of hyacinths will last twice as long when kept in a cool porch. Every time you open the door you’ll get the sweet waft of hyacinth, a scent the Ancient Egyptians considered refreshing and invigorating.

Most hyacinths are fragrant, but some more so than others. They come in a range of colours that includes traditional pinks, blues and whites. In recent years yellows, red-purples and pale-oranges have arrived too, but it’s the traditional varieties that still outshine the others for garden popularity. Blues and whites tend to be more highly fragrant than other colours, but scent is a very personal thing.

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Buying ready-grown hyacinth bulbs

There are plenty of ready-grown hyacinths on offer at supermarkets, garden centres and florists. Look for strong healthy foliage and buy them before they flower, just as the plump bud is fully formed and above the compost. At this stage they will open quickly in a warm room.

Some hyacinths are already potted up in baskets and bowls, but it’s fun to buy small, individual pots and arrange them yourself. Add some cut pussy willow, arranged geometrically and pushed into the compost, or birch twigs. If you wish to add a touch of drama you can spray your twigs silver or white. Or simply cover the bulbs with moss, or add them to mixed arrangements with diminutive pansies or small cyclamen.

Hyacinth bulbs

Planting your own hyacinths

If you really love hyacinths it’s worth taking the trouble to plant your own bulbs in September. You can choose your varieties, rather than accept what’s on offer, and acquire them at a more-reasonable price too.

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Choosing your hyacinth bulbs

Bedding hyacinths

Bedding hyacinths are the most commonly bought of all and they can be used in the garden or in the house. They will flower in spring if planted in September. On average one hyacinth bulb costs 45p.

Treated bulbs

If you want Christmas and New Year flowers you will have to invest in treated bulbs: these are stored at high temperatures to initiate earlier flowering. They tend to be more expensive, usually about 60p per bulb. They need to be planted at the beginning of September and kept in the dark, before being moved to warmer, lighter positions by the beginning of December.

Festival hyacinths

Festival hyacinth bulbs produce lots of fluffy-looking spikes of smaller, more-insignificant flowers and they look much more natural in form. They are normally labelled blue, pink or white. Don’t be put off: these can look superb grown in modern containers.

Multiflora hyacinths

Multiflora hyacinths resemble small bedding hyacinths, although the flower heads are much shorter and smaller with about twenty individual flowers per spike. They are normally labelled blue, pink or white. They look more natural in the garden, but they are also good in bowls.

How to plant hyacinths for indoor use

Hyacinths form large bulbs with papery skin and they are not as hardy as many bulbs. For this reason some people raise them under unheated glass whether they are for an outdoor or indoor display.

When planting hyacinths for indoor use make sure that the tip of the bulb is above the level of the compost.

Use loam-based John Innes Compost no 2, not peat-based compost.

Water well straight after planting and then only water if the compost is dry. Overwatering will cause the bulbs to rot.

Bulbs can take different amounts of time to get to the bud stage so it’s often easier to plant in single pots and then place the ones at the same stage in a bowl or basket. This avoids an uneven display where some are in flower and some are not.

All bulbs need to be placed in a cool, dark position for between 8 and 12 weeks: this resting period develops good roots. After this period bulbs can be uncovered and moved to a warmer, lighter position.

Place you bulbs under a dark cover in a shed. Up-turned buckets are good, or use a plastic bread tray (or similar) and cover with old carpet and chicken wire. This will keep mice away.

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Hyacinths in a spring border

Planting your bulbs outdoors

After potted bulbs have flowered they can be planted in the garden. You have two options. You can plant them in March, once the soil warms up, or you can save the bulbs until September and then plant them out.Plant bulbs in autumn, pointy side up. They should be 4 inches deep and 3 inches apart. They will flower the following spring. You’ll always get smaller flowers in subsequent years, giving a more natural effect, and after three or four years your bulbs will probably dwindle and just produce leaf. Blue hyacinths are particularly good with dark, sooty hellebores.

Handling bulbs

Hyacinth bulbs can irritate the skin. Wear gloves if you are sensitive and always wash your hands afterwards. This is good advice when planting any bulbs as they are almost always treated with fungicides before being stored.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.