Imagine walking into a garden full of fragrance and vibrant colors that inundate your senses. The sweet, spicy perfume of Hyacinthus Orientalis has been on people’s minds since the Dutch hybridized the original wild species found in the Mediterranean area around 1750. This bulbous plant is perfect for any garden or interior space and the greatest thing about it is that you can easily grow it, even if you are a beginner gardener.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean, Hyacinth plants are very common in Europe, North America, Korea, Mexico, and other countries. Hyacinth became so popular in the Netherlands in the 18th century that more than 2000 cultivars were grown for commercial purposes.
Hyacinths bloom in early spring with colorful flowers that last for two weeks or more. Their strong fragrance is beloved by gardeners, but for some reason, it seems to be off-putting for deer. Like daffodils, Hyacinthus Orientalis rarely catches the interest of squirrels and other rodents, so you don’t have to worry about wildlife munching on your flowers.
When planted in suitable conditions, these perennials bulbs can return yearly. Tulips and daffodils are great planting companions, especially the varieties that bloom in the spring. They also go well with low-growing groundcovers and rock garden plants, adding a splash of color to your garden. Amazingly, Hyacinths come in almost every shade of the rainbow, but the most common colors are purple, white, and pink.
If you want to add this beautiful flower to your plant collection, keep on reading to find out how to grow, water, and propagate Hyacinth.
- The name Hyacinthus is attributed to French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. It comes from the Greek name ὑάκινθος (hyákinthos), used by Homer to describe a wildflower which grew from the blood of a young man accidentally killed by Zephyr, the god of wind.
- The genus Hyacinthus used to belong to the family Liliaceae.
- There are three species part of the Hyacinthus genus: Hyacinthus litwinovii, Hyacinthus transcaspicus, and Hyacinthus Orientalis, also known as the Dutch, common, or garden Hyacinthus.
- It is important not to confuse the Common Hyacinth with the Grape Hyanciths which is part of the genus Muscari. The two plants have similar care requirements, but they are quite different.
- Hyacinth plants are toxic, as they contain allergenic lactones, calcium oxalate raphides, and alkaloids. The bulb is the most poisonous part of the plant and should not be ingested. When handling Hyacinth bulbs, make sure to use protective gloves, as they can cause mild skin irritation.
- Hyacinths symbolize playfulness, love, and happiness. However, it can also mean sorrow, jealousy, or rashness, reminding of the behavior of the god Zephyr. Each color holds a different meaning, so if you are offering Hyacinth to someone, make sure you are sending the right message. Purple means regret, white means loveliness, blue means sincerity, red means playtime, and yellow means jealousy.
- “Hyacinthine hair” is a term used to describe certain curly hair that looks like the curled petals of the plant’s flowers. In Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess Athena gives hyacinthine hair to Odysseus to make him look more beautiful. In the poem “To Helen”, Edgar Allan Poe used the term to describe Helen’s beautiful hair.
Hyacinth Features: An Overview
- Hyacinthus grows from bulbs that are 1-3 inches (3-7 cm) in diameter. Each bulb normally produces one flower scape.
- The racemes or spikes of flowers have 2 to 50 flowers per raceme. The flowers have a tubular perianth. Cultivars of the Common Hyacinth are more robust and usually display much denser flower spikes.
- Hyacinthus Orientalis grows to a height of 6-8 inches (15-20 cm). Hyacinth leaves are 6-14 inches (15–35 cm) long, 0, 4-1 inches (1–3 cm) broad, and have a soft, succulent-like texture.
- Common Hyacinthus can be grown in USDA zone 4 with mulch, and it can do well without mulch in higher zones.
- Its strong, sweet perfume can be problematic for asthmatics, so make sure you have no reaction to the smell before planting Hyacinths.
- Many hybrid cultivars are available in commerce with flowers that bloom in various shades of purple, blue, red, white, and pink.
If you have decided to add some Hyacinths to your garden, make sure you choose a spot that has full sun or partial shade so that the plants thrive. You don’t have to worry about too much shade from nearby trees, as the bulbs sprout, bloom, and begin to enter dormancy before most trees leaf out. It’s ideal to offer Hyacinths a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily.
Hyacinthus Orientalis can survive winters in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. However, in cooler areas where temperatures drop below 60°F (16°C), they might need some winter protection. Bulbs can be dug up and placed somewhere dark, dry, and cool until the weather is suitable for their growth. A period of colder temperatures is required so that the plant blooms when spring comes.
The only downside of Hyacinthus is that it is rather short-lived and the bulbs will probably last around 3 or 4 years. But you can replace them every year if they stop producing flowers. After Hyacinthus finishes flowering, usually in late spring, cut back the flower stalks. Be careful not to cut any leaves, as the plant needs its foliage to extract energy from it for next year’s blooms. Make sure you don’t water the bulbs are too often as they don’t appreciate excessive moisture. If they are planted in soil that is too wet, the bulbs are prone to rot and gray mold.
It’s best to plant Hyacinthus Orientalis in the fall after the soil cools down a bit, normally late September or November if you live in a hotter area. The general rule is to plant the bulbs 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Choose a location that gets plenty of sunlight, and make sure you wear protective gloves when handling the bulbs (because they are toxic). Hyacinths do best in well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter such as compost that can improve fertility and drainage.
Before planting the bulbs, it is best to perform a drainage test. If the soil doesn’t drain well, the bulb can rot. Start by digging a trench and filling it with water. If the water is still sitting there half an hour later, it means your drainage is poor. A great solution is to amend the soil by mixing in compost, leaf litter, and even a bit of sand and pebbles. If you have heavy clay soil in your garden, plant in a raised bed to promote drainage.
Space out the bulbs about 6 inches (15 cm) apart and 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) deep with the tips facing up. For a more dramatic effect, stagger them instead of arranging them in a line. Gently pack the soil on top and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of bulb fertilizer on top of each planting hole. Avoid using blood meals, as they can attract pests. Next, spread 2 inches of mulch on top of the planting bed. This will help conserve soil moisture and resist weeds. Finally, give each planting bed 1 inch (2, 5 cm) of water. Feed the bulbs again in the spring when you notice new growth appearing.
When planting in pots, Hyacinth bulbs can be squeezed closer together so they are almost touching. Make sure to leave some room for the soil in between. Until the bulbs sprout, keep the soil damp but not soaking wet. If you are forcing blooms, you will need to pre-chill the bulbs or purchase pre-forced bulbs. After flowering, forced Hyacinthus Orientalis can be transplanted to the garden so that you can enjoy its flowers again the next year.
Hyacinthus Orientalis needs to be watered immediately after planting with 1 inch (2, 5 cm) of water. To measure how much you are watering, set a shallow dish under the spray of water. You will not need to water your Hyacinth plants until they begin actively growing in late winter, spring, or early summer. If rain is scarce in the area where you live, water when the soil feels dry and remove the mulch if necessary.
The best way to water is with a soaker hose placed around the plants and turned low for approximately 20-30 minutes. Watering from overhead should only be done in the morning so that the foliage dries before nightfall. After the foliage dies, water sparingly only when rain is lacking. While the bulbs over winter, you do not need to water them.
Although most gardeners prefer to buy bulbs each year, propagating Hyacinths can be easily done by seeds or bulbs. Hyacinthus Orientalis seeds can often be sterile, so we recommend propagating this lovely flower from bulbs.
To propagate by bulb offsets, start by digging around mature plants after the foliage has died. To make it easier to find the plants, mark their location while they’re in bloom. You will notice small offset bulbs growing from the main bulb. Gently separate them from the parent plant and replant them in the desired location. Replant the original bulbs as well. It will take a few years for the offsets to bloom.
Hyacinthus Orientalis is a spring-blooming ornamental plant with a long history of cultivation across the Mediterranean region and later the Netherlands and all around the world. People have been obsessed with its spicy-sweet smell and vibrant colors that come in almost every shade of the rainbow.
This bulbous plant is low maintenance, so growing it won’t be a hassle. Moreover, it fits in any garden and or interior space and goes well with other plants. Growing Hyacinths is a walk in the park if you keep in mind a few simple requirements, like choosing well-draining soil. Also, you can propagate it yourself and fill all your garden with these amazing spring flowers.
Are you growing Hyacinths? Share your experience in the comments below!