The perfume of blooming hyacinths is as symbolic of early spring as lilacs are to the late-spring garden. Hyacinth plants consist of chubby succulent leaves arranged around a central flower spike. Florets pack the flower column in tight clusters. Bulb hybridizers have been busy pushing the envelope on hyacinth colors and forms, and now hybrids are available in almost every color except black. The double forms have rosettelike flowers that add intriguing texture.
Hyacinths thrive in any well-drained soil in full to partial sun. Many varieties—usually the ones with the most robust flowers—will force easily indoors in soil or damp pebbles if planted and chilled until sprouts appear.
Boldly fragrant hyacinths unfurl their pastel wands of colorful flowers in early spring, perfuming the garden for two weeks or more. The sweet, spicy scent of these spring bulbs is pleasing to gardeners but seems to turn deer away. Hyacinths, like daffodils, squill, and grape hyacinths, are seldom browsed by deer, squirrels, or other rodents. These short-lived perennial bulbs thrive for years in some areas. When planted in well-drained soil and full sun or part shade, they can return year-after-year, but are considered short-lived perennials. Encourage strong, healthy bulb development by planting them where the soil is dry in late summer to early fall. They don't tolerate irrigated garden beds well.
Best Companion Plants
Plant drifts of hyacinths alongside other spring bulbs. Lofty daffodils and tulips are good planting companions. Most hyacinths bloom in early spring. For a hyacinth bloom show that coincides with daffodils and tulips, be sure to select tulip and daffodils varieties that also bloom early in the spring season.
Hyacinths are also a great choice for punctuating low-growing groundcovers such as sedums, thyme, and a host of ground-hugging rock garden plants. Plant groups of 10 to 15 hyacinth bulbs for a punch of color amid low-growing plants. Don't be afraid to combine flower colors—hyacinths are available in nearly every shade of the rainbow.
Hyacinths are planted in fall after the soil has cooled, usually late September through November, depending on your location. These large bulbs are planted 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in well-drained soil and full sun or part shade. Be sure to wear gloves when planting hyacinths; the bulbs can irritate skin.
Plant hyacinths so that the pointed part of the bulb is closest to the soil surface. This is where the shoots will emerge. After planting, water the bulbs well and then cover them with a 2-inch-layer of mulch if desired. Hyacinths multiply slowly. If desired, you can dig up clusters of hyacinths every three to five years or so and separate the small bulbs from the mature bulbs. Replant the mature bulbs in the same location. Plant the immature bulbs in a new location, spacing them about 6 inches apart.
Enjoy Bulbs Inside
Hyacinths, like daffodils and tulips, can be coaxed into blooming indoors in mid-winter or early spring. Plant hyacinth bulbs in a shallow planting container filled with quality potting soil. The top of the bulb should be even with the top of the container. Water well.
Chill the planted bulb in a refrigerator, unheated garage, or cellar at 35 to 45 degrees F for eight to 12 weeks. After the bulbs have chilled, remove them from the refrigerator or garage and place them in a cool space of about 50 degrees F with low light. After green shoots emerge about 1 inch, move them to a warm, brightly lit room of about 60 degrees F. Generally, hyacinths bloom three to four weeks after they are removed from cold storage.
More Varieties of Hyacinth
Hyacinthus orientalis 'Carnegie' bears columns of snow-white flowers in early spring. The plant grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9
'China Pink' hyacinth
Hyacinthus orientalis 'China Pink' offers soft-pink flower spikes that are sweetly perfumed, scenting the early spring air. The plant grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9
'City of Haarlem' hyacinth
Hyacinthus orientalis 'City of Haarlem' is a standout for its soft-yellow, scented blooms. It grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9
Hyacinthus orientalis 'Hollyhock' is noted for its exceptional fragrance and double flowers in a rich shade of carnation pink. The variety grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9
'Peter Stuyvesant' hyacinth
Hyacinthus orientalis 'Peter Stuyvesant' produces deep blue-purple flowers in early spring. This variety grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9
'Sky Jacket' hyacinth
Hyacinthus orientalis 'Sky Jacket' rewards gardeners with steely blue flowers in early to mid-spring. The plant grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-8
Hyacinthus orientalis 'Woodstock' is one of the most distinct varieties with its deep maroon flowers in early spring. It grows 12 inches tall. Zones 4-9