How to Grow Hyacinths
While many spring-flowering bulbs are dainty and graceful, hyacinths are bold and exuberant, and it’s not just their looks that will stop you in your tracks. Hyacinths have a potent, heady fragrance unlike any other spring bulb.
Growing hyacinths in pots outdoors
I find it difficult to use hyacinths in garden borders as their short, stout stems covered with densely packed individual flowers can look a bit out of place. For me, hyacinths are much better suited to container-growing, and a collection of them gathered together by a door is the best way to be greeted on a sunny April day when the perfume lingers in the air.
They’re simple enough to grow. In autumn fill a pot about one-third full with a peat-free, multipurpose compost, then position the bulbs so that they fit snugly in the pot, but make sure they’re not touching each other, as this can cause the bulbs to rot. Cover with compost to just below the rim of the pot.
If it’s a wet spring the stems can sag under the weight of the rain, so it’s a good idea to provide some support. Bendy twigs are the best options – not only do they look natural and rustic, you should be able to find some in your garden or on a nature walk, and once you’ve finished with them they can go on the compost heap. Willow, hazel and birch all work well, or if you have some colourful shrubs such as dogwoods (Cornus) then take some prunings of these. Insert the stems around the edge of the pot – they should be about 40cm tall – then gather them together and tie them at the top with twine, making a teepee shape.
Growing hyacinths indoors
My favourite way to grow hyacinths is to ‘force’ them for winter flowers indoors. Forcing just means encouraging them to flower earlier than they would ordinarily. To do this you need to buy ‘prepared’ or ‘treated’ hyacinths which have been subjected to a period of cold which initiates the growing process. It takes about 8–10 weeks for prepared hyacinths to flower, so if you plant some now you’ll have a lovely display in the new year to cheer up those grey January days. Use bulb fibre, which is easy to find in garden centres, in your chosen pot. Shallow pots known as ‘pans’ work well. Fill around half-full with the bulb fibre, nestling the bulbs on the compost, then fill in around the bulbs so that the tips of the bulbs sit just above the compost. Water the compost a little – you want it to be moist but not soaking wet.
In the dark
Store the pot somewhere cool and dark such as a garage or shed to allow the roots to develop. If you don’t have anywhere dark you can exclude light by covering the pot with a piece of old compost bag tied in place with twine. Check on them regularly to keep the compost moist and when the shoots are about 3cm tall bring the pots into the light. Indoor hyacinths are more likely to flop because the light levels are low and the stems will be stretching towards the light, so create a network of twiggy supports like those for outdoor grown bulbs.
Lovely hyacinth varieties to grow
- ‘Woodstock’ is a deep purple, almost beetroot colour.
- ‘Midnight Sky’ is such a dark blue it’s almost black.
- ‘Delft Blue’ is a shade of sky blue.
- ‘City of Haarlem’ is a lovely buttery yellow.
- ‘Gipsy Queen’ is a peachy apricot.
- ‘Pink Pearl’ is a pretty shade of pale pink.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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