During the dreary months of winter, the view out the window can be brown and gray with not much going on in the landscape and then…..when the weather warms a little ray of hope breaks ground. What is this? Well, it is the humble hyacinth, which appears as one of the first signs of spring.
If you are not familiar with this little bulb, you probably have seen it in stores in hour-glass-shaped-forcing jars. These generally appear right after the holiday season. But you may not be familiar with the hyacinth bulb when it comes to outdoor landscape design.
Hyacinth bulbs thrive in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 9. If you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 and 4 then you will need to insulate them with mulch. On the other hand, if you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 9 then you will need to do some pre-chilling of the bulbs. Regardless of the little extra treatment these bulbs are worth the effort. The plant itself appears and blooms in March through April. The flowers themselves show up on a flower stalk that can be covered with single, double, and multiflora blooms, which can be in a vast array of colors including white, peach, red, purple, lavender, orange, pink, and even yellow. Yes, these bright colors are breathtaking but the other reason people plant this bulb is for the aroma. While it is brief, this bulb’s version of Mother Nature’s perfume is one that you will not forget. In addition to the color, the fragrance this bulb puts out is a wonderful reason why you need to add this plant to your front door landscape.
When using this bulb in your landscape, there are a few mistakes that can be made. First, do not plant your hyacinth bulbs in line like soldiers. Due to their small size, it is better to group them for the biggest impact. Another mistake is the fact that their height is not considered when mixing these bulbs in with other plants. Yes, they look wonderful when added to another group of bulb plantings but they need to be in front. Why? Well, these bulbs can have maximum height of 12 inches. While they may be seen very early in the season, they will be lost in the confusion of the taller bulbs. In doing so, they need to be planted upfront of other plant material.
The hardest part of planting hyacinth bulbs is not the planting but the planning. First, you will need to plant your bulbs in the fall six to eight weeks prior to a hard freeze. If you live in the North, this means you will plant your bulbs in September to October. On the other hand, if you reside in the South then you will need to plant your bulbs in October through November. While the bulbs planted in the North will get their pre-chill in the ground, those in the South have to have this chilling period created for them. The simplest way to do this is to just put your bulbs in the fridge 8 to 12 weeks prior to your planting date but you must not also store fresh fruits or vegetables in fridge at the same time. This exposure will cause harm to your hyacinth bulbs. Another choice is to place the bulbs outside in a covered area that is dark. The environmental temperature needs to be between 35 degrees to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the bulbs will need to come indoors.
Now frankly, if you are going to go to all this trouble you want to pick the best location. Hyacinth bulbs love full sun. Not completely fulfilling this requirement will not kill the bulb instead it simply will not produce as beautiful blooms. On the other hand, if the soil is not well draining then your bulb will rot. In doing so, make sure your planned location is in full sun with well draining soil.
The first step in planting hyacinth bulbs begins with preparing the soil. You will need to loosen the soil down to at least 12 inches but preferably 15 inches. Once the soil is loosened and worked, add a good amount of well seasoned compost and mix in. Hyacinth bulbs not only like a well draining soil but also one that is fertile. Adding well seasoned compost will take care of this requirement.
Next, pull out your ruler and begin measuring off four to six inches. This is the proper spacing for this type of bulb. Once that is done, dig a hole that is six to eight inches deep. Place the bulb in the hole so that the pointed end is up and fill in with soil. When all the bulbs have been planted, take a hoe or your hand and press down on the soil. Water in the bulbs until the soil is evenly moist. Top the area with your chosen landscape mulch.
While planting hyacinth bulbs in your landscape is wonder what if you have no “landscape” or you simply want to create a container of them. This is no problem and this is a wonderful approach by which to get these fragrant bulbs near your front door or sidewalk, if you have a covered entrance.
When it comes to planting your hyacinth bulbs in a container, the rules of cleanliness apply. You will first need to clean and sterilize your chosen container that is at least eight inches deep. Yes, you can simply fill a container with hyacinth bulbs but you may want to consider adding other bulbs that bloom at different times. This will give you seasonal change. If you pick this latter option, make sure that the container is deep enough to address all the needs of the assorted bulb varieties.
After the container has been washed and sterilized, add drainage material and fill with a well draining potting soil. The next step of this process is just the planting. To get the most out of hyacinth bulbs in this planting environment, plant them very close together, not touching but pretty close. Add more bulbs if this is in your container’s plan. Once everything has been planted, water in until you see moisture come out the bottom of the container and place in a sunny location.
Now the question that everyone always asks, are hyacinths annuals or perennials? Well, the answer depends on where you live. If you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 4 and maybe 5 then yes. The bulbs will get their annual cold exposure that is required. On the other hand, if you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 9 then they are grown as annuals.