Growing Hyacinths: MY Complete Guide

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 20th February 2023.

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Hyacinths are showy early bloomers that produce bright colours and are delightfully fragrant; they’re also easy to grow in borders and pots and are a favourite in cottage gardens.

Highlights based on my experience:

  1. I’ve always planted the bulbs in the autumn.
  2. They come back year after year reliably in my garden.
  3. It’s possible to “force” them to bloom in the winter, although my results have been mixed.
  4. I’ve found hyacinths to be trouble-free and easy to maintain, and few pests bother the ones I’ve grown.
  5. They blend very well with other spring-flowering plants in my pots and borders.

Size

Height: 35cm (14″)

Spread: 20cm (8″)

Type

Type

Deciduous: Dies back after flowering and reappears the following season

Growth icon

Growth

Reaches full size in year 1 but the flowers may get smaller over time

Difficulty

Easy to grow and can be potted

Native

Eastern Mediterranean

Location

Tolerates most soil types but if in doubt, add a mulch of compost or leafmould yearly

Sunlight

Hyacinths prefer full sun and in partial or dappled sun, the blooms will be noticeably smaller

Hardiness

US zone 4-8 and all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

No special requirements

Companions

Usually paired with other spring flowering bulbs or under larger shrubs that have shed their leaves

Planting

Plant three times the depth of the bulb and space 15cm apart (6″). plant shallower if grown indoors with the tip of the bulb just below the surface

Flowering

Early winter (forced) or late winter/ early spring

Purple hyacinth plants
Hyacinths with other spring plants

Growing Hyacinths: My Answers to Common Questions

Below you’ll find my answers to common hyacinth questions.

I’ve been growing hyacinths for years so I have plenty of experience, I’ve also tested and experimented with “forcing” them to flower in winter too.

How and When are Hyacinths Sold?

Hyacinths are often sold in garden centres in March and April as potted plants in full bloom or they have the foliage just poking out of the bulb.

I’ve grown them from bulbs which I purchased in late summer/autumn for an autumn planting.

Where is the best place to grow hyacinths?

Hyacinths love full sun, and I’ve grown them successfully in my window box, but they’ve also thrived in other parts of my garden where there was lots of sunlight.

Through testing and experimenting, I know they will still grow if placed in a spot with partial shade or dappled sun, but the blooms will be smaller.

Hyacinths prefer well-draining soil, so keep them away from waterlogged areas of the garden, I’ve lost a few here in my garden in Surrey because it’s shaded and can get boggy in the winter.

How should the site be prepared?

Hyacinths tolerate most soil types as long as it’s free-draining, but a mulch of leafmould or compost can help if you’re unsure.

Based on my experience, I think you should turn over to soil and to improve drainage, add some grit if needed, but other than this, I’ve found that no special preparation required.

How much water or fertiliser do hyacinths require?

Hyacinths seem to prefer the happy middle ground, and I keep the soil moist but not saturated and certainly not bone dry.

As the UK winters are so mild, I don’t water hyacinths outside, and I don’t bother with fertiliser. Instead, I just mulch a couple of times a year with some organic matter such as compost and rotted manure.

I’ve found that potted hyacinths need more water, and I usually apply a dose of slow-release fertiliser now and again.

How tall and wide will hyacinths grow? Will they spread naturally?

My hyacinths grow up to 35cm (14″) and spread by about 20cm (8″).

They are unlikely to set seed in the UK – I’ve never witnessed this, but they do spread by bulb division/offshoots; this is usually a slow process, and I’ve found it very easy to control.

Are there any special pruning or deadheading requirements?

As with most bulb plants, you can snip off the flowerheads after they’re finished blooming, as this forces the plant to send its energy to the bulb rather than to the faded flower or for seed production.

In my experience, the foliage dies back quickly after the flowers have faded, but gardeners should leave it in place until it pulls away easily from the bulb.

Do hyacinths suffer from any pests and diseases?

I had a few issues with bulb rot in my garden, which is a bit damp and shaded.

Grey mould may affect plants grown in wet conditions and is spread via overhead watering, so I suggest watering from the side if possible. Improving the air circulation around the hyacinth could prevent it from returning next year.

In my garden, I’ve noticed that slugs and snails are attracted to the foliage, but their numbers are usually limited this early in the year, and I wouldn’t describe their presence as problematic.

I’ve discussed slug control products and techniques in more detail on this page.

When do hyacinths flower and how long for?

My hyacinths flower for up to four weeks indoors and around two to three weeks outside in my garden.

I have previously forced them to bloom as early as Christmas, but if left alone in the garden, they will usually flower in March and April and sometimes into early May if it’s a cold year.

How can hyacinths be propagated?

I’ve only ever propagated hyacinths by bulb offshoots which I found very easy and I do it every few years.

Are hyacinths toxic or harmful to humans and pets?

Hyacinths are toxic to humans and pets.

Source1

Source2

Are hyacinths beneficial to wildlife?

Even though they are early bloomers, hyacinths are beneficial to bees and other pollinators that may be around as they are a great source of nectar. I don’t see many around my hyacinths as they bloom so early, but they certainly won’t do any harm to them.

What is the difference between muscari and hyacinth?

Muscari is known as the “grape hyacinth” but this is just a common name, and they shouldn’t be confused with hyacinths.

The blooms on muscari look very different, although the two plants grow to a similar height and shape.

Interestingly, I’ve experimented by growing both together and in my opinion, they complement each other delightfully.

Explore my guide to growing muscari: How to grow muscari.

Try These:

Humphreys Garden Hyacinth Mixed x 30 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth City of Haarlem x 10 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth Mixed x 30 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth City of Haarlem x 10 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth Mixed x 30 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth Mixed x 30 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth City of Haarlem x 10 Bulbs Size 15/16
Humphreys Garden Hyacinth City of Haarlem x 10 Bulbs Size 15/16

Growing Hyacinths: At a Glance

If you’ve never grown hyacinths before, here are my ten key points:

  1. They are fairly low-growing and produce an unusually large flowerhead compared to the height of the plant. I can’t think of another plant that looks like them.
  2. In my garden, they mix very well with other spring-flowering bulbs I grow, such as daffodils and early tulips.
  3. I’ve grown them successfully in pots, containers and window boxes, just give them as much sunlight as possible.
  4. They will still bloom in partial shade, although in my gadren, the flowers were smaller.
  5. I’ve found hyacinths very easy to grow and they didn’t have any special water or fertiliser requirements, but they do prefer well-drained soil.
  6. They flower early, usually well before pests are around in great numbers.
  7. I suggest planting the bulbs outdoors to a depth of around 10-15cm (4-6″).
  8. Deadhead after the flowers have faded, it’s good practice.
  9. I always let the foliage die back naturally.
  10. In my garden, I mulch in the winter with compost or leafmould.

Which plants Mix Well With Hyacinths?

When it comes to companion plants for hyacinths, you have a lot of choices, and over the years I’ve done plenty of testing and experimenting.

I’ve found that hyacinths can be used to cover the ground below deciduous trees and taller shrubs, they can also be mixed with other spring-flowering plants in a bed, or they can be grown in pots alone or with other plants.

Pots

In pots and window boxes, I’ve had success mixing hyacinths with:

  • violas
  • pansies
  • primrose
  • dwarf daffodils
  • anemone

Border and Beds

Out in the garden, my hyacinths blend well with:

  • tulips
  • daffodils
  • muscari
  • groundcover plants such as sedum
  • anemone

Groundcover

Planted as groundcover, they work well under deciduous trees and near tall shrubs that are still fairly bare around mid-spring, such as hydrangeas.

I like the contrast between the blueish purple on hyacinths and the yellow flowers on daffodils, but there are hundreds of other potential combinations, consider these:

Alternatives

Hyacinths are unique in that the flowers are very large for the height of the plant, so much so that on windy days in my garden, they sometimes topple over.

There is only one plant that looks remotely like hyacinth and that’s muscari:

Muscari

Muscari is an entirely different genus than hyacinth but, confusingly, is commonly referred to as “grape hyacinth”.

Both hyacinth and muscari bloom at the same time, grow to a similar height and have similar foliage.

If you’re looking for an alternative to hyacinths, try growing muscari, I’ve mixed them and feel they blend well together.

My Experience of Growing Hyacinths Indoors For Winter Colour

Hyacinth bulbs will grow and produce a flower after a period of cold temperature. This is usually in spring after a cold winter, but they can be tricked into growing by chilling the bulbs in the summer.

Chilled bulbs are usually called “tricked” or “treated” bulbs.

If chilled in the summer and planted in autumn, they should bloom during the winter, often as early as Christmas.

I’ve tried this and I had mixed results, the issue appears to be how chilled they should be.

If you want to give it a go, I feel your best bet is to buy bulbs from a garden centre that have been tricked, but here are the instructions if you want to try it yourself:

  1. Start in late September.
  2. Place gravel or broken crockery in the base of a container for drainage.
  3. Add gritty or fibrous compost.
  4. Put the bulbs in, leaving the tip of the neck sticking out.
  5. Wrap in a large, dark bag.
  6. Place the container and bag in a cool, dark place such as an exterior garage, shed or celler.
  7. Leave for about two and a half months but keep moist, not saturated, so the roots can take hold.
  8. After an inch or so (3cm) of stem appears, relocate to a brighter (but still cool) spot for a few weeks until some colour is visible on the bud.
  9. Bring indoors and enjoy your winter hyacinth, which may need staking as it will be top-heavy.
  10. Once the hyacinth has finished flowering, move the pot to a sheltered spot outdoors until spring, then transplant into a border.

As stated, I’ve had mixed results with some flowering and some not. I believe the issue for me was keeping them cool, as I don’t have a cellar here.

Elizabeth Smith’s Hyacinth Tip

Here is a quote from Elizabeth Smith, a qualified horticulturist:

I’ve grown hyacinths many times and I prefer to see them in pots and ideally on their own or with some smaller annuals such as violas or pansies, as these don’t distract from the unique beauty of the hyacinth.

Elizabeth Smith

More Photos

Three hyacinth flowering bulbs
Purple hyacinths in a garden
Pink hyacinths (closeup)
Blue and purple hyacinth flower

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This hyacinth growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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