Hyacinths are delightful, fragrant spring bulbs, flowering in a range of colours, from traditional purple and pink to white and even mauve. Hyacinths are easy to grow and can be planted in garden borders or pots. They can also be forced for indoor Christmas displays.
How to grow hyacinths
For outdoor-grown hyacinths, plant hyacinth bulbs 10cm deep in moist but well-drained soil, in a sunny spot, in autumn.
Buy heat-treated or ‘prepared’ bulbs for indoor displays, and then plant them in pots of peat-free multi-purpose compost, so the bulb tips sit just above the surface. Cover them and keep them somewhere dark and cool for around 10 weeks, until shoots appear, and then move into a light, airy spot to bring on the flowers.
After flowering, remove the flower stem and feed with a high potash fertiliser, allowing the foliage to die down completely. Outdoor-grown hyacinths can be left in the soil to reappear the following year. Forced hyacinth bulbs for indoor displays won’t be suitable for using indoors again, but you can plant them outside and they’ll flower every spring for years to come.
More on growing hyacinths
Learn more about growing hyacinths for indoor and outdoor displays, below.
Where to grow hyacinths
Hyacinths work well at the front of spring borders, along with other spring bulbs like grape hyacinths (muscari) and tulips. Their small size (up 5to 30cm tall) makes them ideal for spring pot displays.
In the house, grow hyacinths in a bright, airy spot, ideally with plenty of sunshine.
How to plant hyacinths
Make sure you always wear gloves when planting hyacinth bulbs, as they can irritate the skin.
For outdoor-grown hyacinths, plant the bulbs in autumn, ideally in a sunny spot in moist but well-drained soil. Prepare the soil by removing weeds and dig to reduce compaction if necessary, and then adding organic matter such as well-rotted animal manure or compost. Plant the bulbs at a depth of around 10cm, and 8cm apart. Cover with soil and gently firm around them. Water the soil if it’s dry.
In pots, plant hyacinths in peat-free, multi-purpose compost, around 5cm apart. For long term displays use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No. 2, and plant the bulbs further apart, as you would if planting them in the ground. Adding an annual dressing of slow-release fertiliser will help keep the display looking its best.
How to plant hyacinths indoors
Hyacinths make fantastic, fragrant Christmas displays. For the best results buy ‘prepared’ or heat-treated bulbs, which don’t need to be forced for as long to encourage early flowers. You don’t need to plant indoor hyacinths as deeply as you would plant them in pots or in the ground. Simply place the bulbs on a 5cm layer of compost, so they’re close together but not touching. Fill compost around them so the top of each bulb is visible. Water lightly to moisten the compost.
Planting hyacinths for Christmas
For Christmas hyacinths, plant the bulbs around 13 weeks beforehand, around the last week of September. For guaranteed Christmas blooms, plant three batches, each at weekly intervals, so if one batch goes over there will be two more in the sidelines ready to flower on the big day.
Here, Monty Don explains how to force hyacinths for Christmas:
To ‘force’ hyacinths into flowering, you’ll need to cover them for a while. You can cover them with an old blanket, some straw or a thick newspaper, and store them in a shed or garage where they will remain cool (9ºC is ideal), for up to 10 weeks (forced bulbs need only six weeks). Check them regularly and give them another light watering if the compost feels dry.
Once the shoots have grown, bring your hyacinths indoors to a bright, cool spot such as a window sill. Take care not to put them near a heat source such as a radiator, as they can grow too quickly and topple over. Water as and when you need to, typically when the compost starts to feel dry. Once indoors, your hyacinths should take only three weeks to flower.
How to grow hyacinths in a glass vase
You can also grow hyacinths bulbs in glass jars or vase, without any compost. Use only heat-treated bulbs for this. Simply fill each hyacinth glass with water to just below where the bulb’s base will sit, then put the bulb in place. Make sure it doesn’t touch the water, but sits just above it. Place the glass in a cool (below 10°C), dark place for six weeks for roots to form. Once the main green shoot is about 7-10cm tall, move the glass into full light and watch the flower gradually develop. Turn the glass around by a half-turn every day, to prevent the plant growing towards the light and toppling over. Top up the water as necessary.
After flowering, remove the flowering stem to stop the plant wasting energy on seed production. Let the foliage die down completely, and feed with a potash-rich fertiliser like a tomato feed, which the bulb will use to produce next year’s flowers. Indoor bulbs can be planted in the ground to flower naturally the following year.
How to propagate hyacinths
Hyacinth bulbs grown in the ground will naturally propagate themselves by forming off shoots. You can dig up the bulbs and remove these during autumn and winter, or let the clump bulk up naturally.
Growing hyacinths: problem-solving
The most common problem when growing hyacinths indoors is that they flop over. This is caused by heavy flower stems and too much heat. Make sure your hyacinths grow in cool. bright conditions, away from a heat source. This will ensure they grow slowly and don’t topple over.
In the garden, hyacinths may not look as floriferous the second or third year after planting them. While these look attractive in their own right, you may wish to encourage them to return to their original flowering form. To encourage this, make sure the foliage dies down naturally after flowering and give the bulbs a good feed with a potash-rich fertiliser. For bulbs that have been in the ground for more than a couple of years, it may be best to replace them.
Best hyacinth varieties to grow
Hyacinth ‘Delft Blue’
This stunning hyacinth variety gets its name from the Dutch city of Delft. The inky blue flowers are intensely fragrant. A good variety for growing outdoors beneath shrubs and trees.
Hyacinth ‘Blue Tango’
‘Blue Tango’ is a double-flowered hyacinth related to ‘Royal Navy’ but with soft blue flowers instead. The blooms release a powerful fragrance, so it’s a lovely choice for growing indoors.
‘Woodstock’ is a stunning variety with intense purple flowers – a shade rarely seen in hyacinths. It looks especially good when planted with contrasting colours, like pale yellow daffodils and white anemones. Richly scented.
This sweetly fragrant hyacinth has rose-pink flowers, borne in tight clusters. Try planting ‘Fondant’ with forget-me-nots and white or purple tulips to create a soft colour scheme.