Fundamental Facts

HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 7
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Fragrant spring flowers in a wide range of colors; for beds, pots
FAVORITES: 'Gypsy Queen', 'City of Haarlem', 'Anne Marie', 'Bismarck', 'Delft Blue'
QUIRKS: Needs 8 weeks minimum winter chilling; bulbs can irritate skin on contact
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Candytuft, daffodil, pansy, primrose, snapdragon, tulip
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: In sun and well-drained soil in cool climates
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Wet soil in winter can induce root rot
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives up to 5 years; replace old, poorly flowering bulbs in spring
PLANTING DEPTH: 8 in (20.3 cm)
DIMENSIONS: 12 in (30.5 cm) tall, 4 in (10.2 cm) wide

Hyacinth in the Landscape

Hyacinths are among the most elegant spring-flowering bulbs, with a sweet perfume that is the essence of spring. Their 6-8 in (15.2-20.3 cm) tall flower spikes are crowded with bell-shaped blossoms that have jaunty, curled-back petals. Hyacinths bloom year after year, but the spikes often become slightly longer and less densely packed with blossoms after their debut.This change softens their appearance, making them less soldierly, but the fragrance remains as strong as ever. Hyacinths are available with flowers in a wide range of soft colors from whites to soft yellows and pinks, plus many shades of blue from light lavender to deep purple.

Use hyacinths in a formal flower border, as an edging for foundation shrubs, or even as container plants. Combined with pansies and primroses in beds or half-barrels, hyacinths become a feast for the eyes. And if you follow the show with marigolds and zinnias, the 6 in (15.2 cm) tall browning leaves will be well camouflaged into summer. But outdoor performance is not your only option with hyacinths. Potted up in the fall and kept in a place that's cool but remains above freezing, or in a refrigerator, for 12-14 weeks, hyacinths will eagerly bloom indoors while winter still holds sway in the garden.

Colors Old and New

With a color range that increases all the time, hyacinths are available in numerous cultivars. Some favorites include the apricot-salmon 'Gypsy Queen', maroon 'Distinction', purple 'Bismarck', blue-lilac 'Delft Blue', pink 'Anne Marie', and gleaming white 'Carnegie'. Varieties treasured since Victorian times include the primrose yellow 'City of Haarlem', purple 'General Kohler', pink 'Chestnut Flower', and ivory 'L'Innocence'.

Growing Hyacinth

Blessed with an easy-to-please personality, hyacinths are gratifying bulbs for any gardener. Buy and plant bulbs in the fall, choosing plump, firm specimens. The bigger the bulb, the larger the flower spike will be. Plant bulbs with the pointed ends up, 8 in (20.3 cm) deep and 3-4 in (7.6-10.2 cm) apart in groupings of 5 or more. Your chosen site should be in sun to partial shade, with rich, loose soil and good drainage. Water after planting and then apply a 2 in (5.1 cm) diick layer of loose mulch, such as shredded bark, especially in colder zones.

In spring, the flowers begin as clusters of light green buds and then shoot out into flowers in a matter of days. After the blooms fade, cut off the flower stem and allow the leaves to grow until they turn yellow before removing them.

Take precautions when handling hyacinth bulbs, because they can irritate your skin or eyes if you touch your hands to your eyes. As a precaution, wear gloves when planting the bulbs and keep the bulbs out of the hands of children. Hyacinths bloom so early in spring that there are rarely any insects or diseases present to cause them problems.

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