Both Christmas Flower and Spring Joy
When the year is at its darkest, hyacinths spread their fragrance indoors. But hyacinths are equally beautiful and easy to grow outdoors. They bloom vigorously in spring, are winter-hardy up to cultivation zone IV, and come back to the flowerbed year after year.
Hyacinth in a Mythological Love Triangle
The hyacinth originates from Turkey and Syria. It came to Sweden during the 17th century. Like many spring-flowering plants, the hyacinth is associated with life, hope, and rebirth.
In Greek mythology, we read about Hyacinthus – a young mortal man who captured the love of the god Apollo. However, the West Wind was also enamored with Hyacinthus, leading to a quick love triangle. When Hyacinthus and Apollo threw a discus together, the West Wind became so jealous that he blew wildly. The discus veered off course and struck Hyacinthus with a deadly blow. But Apollo refused to send Hyacinthus to the dark underworld of death. Instead, he transformed the young man into flowers that adorned the earth.
Planting Hyacinths Indoors
The Christmas hyacinths we buy commercially with green buds have already been forced in greenhouses. These hyacinths bloom within a few days. If you want to try forcing winter hyacinths yourself, plant the bulbs in September or October. It takes two to three months until they bloom. Hyacinths thrive in regular potting soil, ideally mixed with a bit of sand. You can plant them in a regular pot or in a hyacinth glass filled with water. Allow the top of the bulb to be visible. Place them in a dark and cool spot and water lightly occasionally. Do not water directly onto the bulb, but onto the soil!
When the hyacinth bulbs begin to sprout green leaves, it’s time to place the pots in room temperature. However, they still prefer darkness. You can easily achieve this by rolling up a small paper cone and placing it over the pot. Now you can increase the watering. After a couple of weeks with the cone on, the hyacinths are ready to bloom. Then, you can simply place them on the windowsill or in a holiday arrangement and enjoy both their color and fragrance.
If you want to delay the blooming to match the Christmas season, it’s possible to refrigerate the hyacinths for a while. And to prolong the blooming period, you can place the flowering hyacinths in a cool spot overnight.
Planting Hyacinths Outdoors
Hyacinths intended to bloom outdoors in spring should be planted in the fall. If you plant hyacinths in September or October, the bulbs have ample time to develop roots, making them capable of withstanding the winter well.
Plant the hyacinth bulbs about 10 cm deep. A suitable distance between the plants can be about 7 cm. Water thoroughly after planting. Hyacinths enjoy sunlight but also grow well in partial shade. Like all bulbs, they don’t like to sit in waterlogged soil. Therefore, plant the hyacinth bulbs in well-drained soil. If hyacinths are cultivated in a pot, it’s important that the pot has a drainage hole. A layer of gravel can also serve as insurance to prevent the roots from sitting in water.
Tip: Do not cut off the hyacinth leaves after blooming; let them wither down. The nutrients in the leaves will then transfer to the bulb, providing a good start for next year’s flowers.
Hyacinth as a Cut Flower
It is particularly clever to pick a hyacinth that has grown tall. This can easily happen if it receives a lot of water and heat. Of course, you can support the stem with a flower stick. However, we usually prefer to trim the hyacinth stem and place it in a beautiful vase. If you’re lucky, a new little hyacinth flower will soon emerge from the bulb.
It’s good to know that hyacinths, despite their lovely fragrance, are toxic to children and animals.
Author: Johanna Damm
Fact-checked by Erik Hoekstra
Last updated: June 29, 2023