How To Grow Hyacinths
Plant hyacinths in autumn for delicious scent at Christmas
There’s nothing like the addictive scent of a bowl of hyacinths in the house; place where you will pass them most frequently to fully appreciate their glory. Don’t place them in a draught or next to a heat source and the warmer they are the sooner they will go over, so if you want to keep them for as long as possible a cool bright spot would be ideal. They originally come from the mountains of Turkey so are used to snow and freezing conditions and as they grow in a stony environment they are able to cope, so if you want to keep them year after year in the garden you must try and replicate these free draining conditions. They come in a range of colours from purest white to deepest purple, through blues, pinks, orange and yellow. Always use gloves when handling the bulbs as they can cause irritation in some cases. Buy and plant the bulbs in autumn.
Planting in the garden
They like a free draining soil with some humus, to retain a little moisture, in full sun. If you have a clay soil I would consider another site or growing them in pots. If you have a south facing hedge they can be planted at the base where the hedge takes out most of the moisture and they are in full sun. If you have a free draining sandy soil add some good quality peat-free compost.
Prepare the planting hole with some grit to improve the drainage and incorporate a little blood, fish and bone. Plant about 10cm (4”) deep and 8cm (3”) apart. If the soil is damp there is no need to water.
Deadhead after flowering but keep the leaves, which will photosynthesise and build up the bulb for the following year. Take the leaves off when they have gone completely yellow. After flowering they can be fed fortnightly with liquid seaweed or a high potash fertiliser, such as Tomorite, to encourage the formation of flower buds. The second year after flowering they will not be as prolific or as large as the first year as the nursery subject them to various processes to optimise flower size and quantity. Left to their own devices in the garden they should flower around March/April.
To have them flowering indoors for Christmas they need to be planted as soon as you buy them. Make sure that the bulbs have been prepared for forcing.
- Place a thin layer of damp compost in the bottom of the bowl. Use a good quality bulb fibre.
- Place in the bulbs, which should have the tips level with or just above the rim of the bowl. They can be planted close together but not touching. Fill in the spaces with bulb fibre and just dampen the compost. The tips of the bulbs should be showing above the compost. Leave a small gap between the top of the compost and the rim of the bowl to allow for watering.
- Place in a cool, dark spot, 9C (48F), for a period of 10 – 14 weeks. Place in a thick bin liner in the cellar, garage or shed. Alternatively you can place them outside somewhere cool and shady, at the base of a north facing wall would be ideal. Cover with about 15cm (6”) of chipped bark or compost; this is not recommended if you are using a bowl with no drainage holes as they will fill with rain and rot.
- Check regularly to make sure they don’t dry out; keep the compost just and so damp, too wet and they will rot. Take care with bowls which don’t have drainage holes.
- When the shoots have reached a height of 4 – 5cm (1.5 – 2”) it is time to bring them indoors. Place in a cool spot away from bright light until the leaves have turned green. Once they have turned green you can move them to their final place in a warmer room but away from a direct heat source, such as over a radiator or near a fire. They need as much light as possible.
- They benefit from a humid atmosphere so if possible place the bowl on a tray of damp gravel.
- After flowering dead head and treat as for bulbs in the garden. They can be planted outside for flowers in successive years, but they won’t be as large as that first year. Indoor hyacinths must be bought new every year.
For growing in a hyacinth vase just fill the vase with water up to the neck and place the bulb in the cup with the base of the bulb just and so touching the water.
There are very few problems; if they are outside the new shoots will need protecting from rabbits. If it is a mild spring they could also be attacked by slugs and snails so you will need to be vigilant as they will eat out the growing tip and burrow into the centre of the bulb with the result that the bulbs will have to be thrown away. If they don’t flower it could be because the compost has been too wet or too dry; it could also be a result of not being cool enough for long enough. Rotting could be a problem if the soil is too wet, so always dig in some grit if you have a heavy soil.