Hyacinths are magnificent early bloomers that can also be forced indoors. Find out everything about the different hyacinth varieties as well as how to care for and propagate these colourful spring classics.
Hyacinths, with their brilliantly coloured, large inflorescences and strong fragrance, are classic spring flowers that bloom at the end of winter. Read on to find out all about the hyacinth flower including its various species as well as our helpful planting and growing tips.
Hyacinths: flowering time and characteristics
Hyacinths (Hyacinthus) belong to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). In Greek mythology, the mourning sun god, Apollo, created the fragrant flower from the blood of Hyacinthus, whom he accidentally killed with a discus throw. All hyacinth species are native to the Orient and can be found in the wild in Turkey, Iran, and as far away as Israel.
In spring, from the tough hyacinth bulb emerge lanceolate, elongated, dark green leaves and a single flower stalk, which is covered with numerous individual flowers. Hyacinth flowers, which come in a variety of colours from pink, red and yellow to deep blue and violet, lack a calyx and are made up of six colourful petals. When they flower between March and May, these early bloomers exude a strongly perfumed, sweet scent that attracts numerous bees and other insects. Many round hyacinth seeds form in capsules after flowering and open when ripe. Hyacinth plants retreat into their bulbs in the summer and survive in the ground until the next spring.
In the language of flowers, hyacinths symbolise sincerity, love, beauty and happiness, which is why they are often given as gifts.
The colourful diversity of hyacinth species and varieties
The genus Hyacinthus consists of three species, whereby only the common hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) has been cultivated and bred in the UK. Even in nurseries you can rarely find the wild hyacinth Hyacinthus transcaspicus. These are the most beautiful varieties of the common hyacinth.
- ‘Blue Pearl’: Deep blue-violet blooms with lighter edges. A rather small hyacinth, growing to around 25 cm.
- ‘Blue Star’: Unicoloured, blue hyacinth with a height of up to 25 cm. This variety is suitable for growing indoors.
- ‘Jan Bos’: Bright pink hyacinth with light red patterns on the petals. It reaches a height of 20 to 40 cm.
- ‘Midnight Mystic’: This hyacinth is almost black with dark flower stems and dark green foliage. It remains low and grows to about 20 cm high. Must be grown outdoors in direct sunlight for the extremely dark blooms.
- ‘Odysseus’: Attractive, apricot-orange hyacinth with a height of up to 40 cm. Its fragrant flowers attract numerous insects between April and May.
- ‘Pink Pearl’: This is a pink hyacinth variety with a height of up to 25 cm. These large, fragrant flowers are easy to grow indoors.
- ‘Royal Navy’: A rare hyacinth variety that bears dark blue-purple double flowers with a very intense fragrance. Grows to about 20 cm high fragrance.
- ‘White Pearl’: Small white hyacinth variety that grows 15 to 25 cm tall. It is easy to cut and gives off a sweet fragrance.
- ‘Woodstock’: Hyacinth with plum-purple flowers. This variety was created as early as 1922 and grows 20 to 30 cm tall. The velvety plum-purple hyacinth is ideal for growing in pots and balcony boxes.
- ‘Yellow Queen’: Bright, yellow hyacinth that grows up to 40 cm tall. The quite tall cultivar produces spikes of creamy-yellow flowers between April and May.
Planting hyacinths: bulbs, location and co.
Hyacinths are low-maintenance early bloomers that can be grown in beds or pots. Whether in a pot or in the garden, hyacinths thrive in sunny to semi-shady locations with nutrient-rich, humus-rich and loose soil.
Planting hyacinths in a pot
Hyacinths are ideal for planting in pots and balcony boxes. They are hardy down to -15 °C and can therefore spend the winter outdoors with only a little protection, such as an insulating layer of jute or fleece. To avoid waterlogging, the pot needs to have good drainage. Put a drainage layer of sand, gravel or expanded clay at the bottom of the pot to prevent the bulbs and their roots from getting too wet and rotting. If you wish to keep hyacinths in a pot for a longer period of time, place the bulbs at least 10 cm apart. A high-quality potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic Flower Compost, has a loose structure and at the same time stores sufficient moisture, which is ideal for hyacinths. In spring, place the bulbs deep enough into the potting soil so that it is completely covered. Water properly and place the pot outdoors.
If you want to keep your hyacinth as a potted plant indoors all year round, it must be placed in a cool, dark place for a period of time to simulate winter in order for it to flower. Initially, place the hyacinth bulb in a pot with soil, leaving the majority of the bulb exposed. Water vigorously and put the pot in a cool, dark place. After about eight weeks, the hyacinth will have formed an obvious flower bud. Bring the hyacinth in its pot back into the house and leave it in a cool, bright location for a few more days. It can then be placed in a warm room.
Planting hyacinths in the garden
The best time for planting hyacinths outdoors is in autumn or early spring. They are best planted in small groups of three to five plants, spaced about 15 to 20 cm apart. First loosen the soil and work in some compost or slow-release fertiliser – such as our Plantura Flower Food – to ensure a long-lasting supply of nutrients. Improve soils that are too heavy with sand or bentonite. The planting depth for hyacinth bulbs is about 10 to 15 cm below the soil’s surface. So first dig a deep hole. Place the hyacinth bulb with the shoot facing upwards inside and fill the hole with soil. Water well as this washes the soil directly to the roots, which promotes growth.
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Forcing hyacinths in a jar
Hyacinth plants can also be grown as a house decoration in a beautifully shaped glass vase filled with water for a short period of time. In order to flower, the bulbs need to be stored in a cold place for several weeks (method above). Please note that only the roots, not the bulb itself, come into contact with the water. There is a special hyacinth vase for this purpose, but in principle any similar shaped jar will work. Change the water every few days. After flowering, put the bulbs in a container with soil or in a bed to provide nutrients to the plant.
Note: You can also buy hyacinths in wax, where the bulb is completely covered with coloured wax. The hyacinth plant can survive without water and nutrients for some time, and even produces hyacinth flowers as it draws on reserves stored in the bulb. However, in the long run, the airtight and waterproof wax does not allow the bulb to breathe or sprout roots, so it does not survive long and cannot be transplanted.
Propagating hyacinth bulbs
To propagate hyacinths, the easiest way is to separate the often numerous bulbs from the mother plant and transplant them. However, the young hyacinth bulbs will need a longer cold period to sprout the following year. Separate the bulbs in autumn and store them in a cool place during the winter. Cover the roots in moist sand to prevent them from drying out completely. Keep the bulb itself dry. In early spring, plant the bulb in a suitable location outside or in a pot.
Are hyacinths poisonous?
The hyacinth plant is slightly poisonous and can cause vomiting, nausea and other gastrointestinal illnesses if eaten in excess. Therefore, keep hyacinths out of reach of pets and children as a precaution. Hyacinths can also cause skin irritation if touched by people with sensitive skin, so always wear gloves when potting and handling.
These early bloomers require little attention, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to have long-lasting plants that enjoy flowering. Read our dedicated article to find out what you need to bear in mind when caring for hyacinths.