In spring, the grape hyacinths’ intense blue flowers create bold splashes of colour in our gardens. They look beautiful when combined with other early-flowering plants.
The grape hyacinth (Muscari) is an undemanding and low-maintenance plant. There are also many different grape hyacinth species and varieties, some of which also grow well in the wild. Read on for more information about the characteristics of this bulb-forming perennial.
Grape hyacinth: origin and description
The grape hyacinth belongs to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) and is a perennial, herbaceous plant. Muscari is classified as a geophyte, because it forms a bulb that serves as a survival organ. It is native to Europe, Southwest Asia and North Africa. The early blooming species of grape hyacinth are endangered, which is why they are under special protection and should not be dug up. Muscari grow naturally in large, lawn-like clusters and in partially-sunny to sunny locations, and they prefer dry to fresh, calcareous soil.
Except for the broad-leaved grape hyacinth (Muscari latifolium), which has only a single leaf, these bulbous geophytes typically have two to seven narrow basal leaves. These leaves are slightly fleshy with parallel leaf veins, as is typical for monocotyledons. Its many flowers form a terminal raceme on the 15 to 25 cm tall stem. The mostly blue or white petals are tightly fused together, forming a shape like an upside down jug or vase. The raceme’s upper flowers are usually smaller and sterile. Following fertilisation, three-winged capsules develop from the flowers, containing round, black grape hyacinth seeds.
When do grape hyacinths bloom? Grape hyacinths’ flowering times vary from species to species. Usually, the first flowers appear in March or April, and the last in May.
Are grape hyacinths bee-friendly? While they do not provide very much nectar or pollen, grape hyacinths are still beneficial to pollinators because they provide some of the first blooms in the spring. Mason bees, for example, frequently visit grape hyacinths and enjoy their nectar.
Are grape hyacinths poisonous? The toxicity of muscari is classified as low because mild poisoning is possible. Consumption in large quantities is strongly discouraged. More information about poisoning symptoms in humans and animals can be found further down in this article.
Are grape hyacinths hardy?
Muscari are very hardy and can survive even the coldest of winters, so their bulbs can be left in the ground all year round. The majority of the available grape hyacinth species can withstand temperatures down to about – 34 °C and are classified in winter hardiness zone H7. An exception to this is the more sensitive Aucher-Eloy grape hyacinth (Muscari aucheri): It is classified as zone H6 and is, thus, only hardy down to – 23 °C. Regardless of the species, keep potted muscari plants in a protected area that only dips slightly below zero in winter.
Tip: When planting grape hyacinth in planters, use a well-drained, loose and humus-rich substrate. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost is perfect for grape hyacinths as it already contains crushed expanded clay for improved permeability, as well as compost and primarily organic fertiliser which slowly and continuously supplies nutrients to your plants over a long period of time.
Propagating grape hyacinth
When grown in suitable locations, it is rarely necessary to propagate grape hyacinths, as they quickly multiply on their own. Generally, propagation works via daughter bulbs or sowing, with the exception of the compact grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides). Compact grape hyacinths do not form daughter bulbs as readily and are thus mainly propagated by sowing. When deciding whether to plant Muscari bulbs or sow seeds, keep in mind that planted bulbs grow faster and flower earlier than those propagated by sowing.
For effective and promising propagation via daughter bulbs, divide them from the mother bulb in autumn. Then, replant them in the desired location and care for them in the same way as the mother plants. Read our article on how to plant and care for grape hyacinths for more information.
Grape hyacinth seeds need temperatures around 0 °C for several weeks in order to germinate. Sow the grape hyacinth seeds outdoors in garden beds or pots in autumn or spring. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep them moist. The young plants can take two to three years to flower for the first time, so sowing requires a lot more patience.
Tip: Grape hyacinths often germinate unevenly. So, even if nothing is popping up in the pots, leave them to germinate for a little while longer.
Preventing grape hyacinths from spreading
To prevent grape hyacinths from spreading, remove withered Muscari flower heads to prevent seeds from ripening and self-sowing. Another method for preventing the spread of these early bloomers is to completely dig up the bulbs. Consider cultivating grape hyacinth bulbs in planters if you do not want them to multiply at all. You can also avoid grape hyacinth multiplication by selecting a species that is less prone to multiplication in general, such as the compact grape hyacinth.
Are muscaris poisonous?
Muscaris are barely poisonous and are among the safest plants for the garden. In the majority of cases, they do not poison humans or animals. Only excessive consumption can cause mild symptoms of poisoning due to the flavonoids and anthocyanins in grape hyacinths. Still, this requires a regular intake of large amounts. However, flavonoids and anthocyanins are generally considered beneficial to health.
If a person eats too many grape hyacinths, they may experience gastrointestinal issues. For those with sensitive skin, minor irritations such as itchy or red skin can occur after contact. Do not let children and babies, in particular, eat any part of a grape hyacinth plant.
Grape hyacinth is also only slightly poisonous to pets such as cats and dogs. If ingested in large quantities, vomiting, diarrhoea, circulatory problems and apathy are common. That said, do not induce vomiting after eating the grape hyacinth plant, as the plant irritates mucous membranes. Treating the symptoms and drinking a glass of still water, tea or juice are usually sufficient.
If you are interested in adding more early-flowering plants to your bed, you can find inspiration in our article on the 15 most beautiful early-bloomers.