Known for their fragrant flowers and bulbous bell shape, hyacinths are gorgeous plants whether they are grown in your garden or displayed on your windowsill. Part of the lily family, these beauties are spring-blooming perennials that can dazzle in your yard for years. If you're an amateur gardener or if you already have a green thumb, caring for these stunners is a rewarding experience. Rick Canale, a third-generation florist at Exotic Flowers in Boston, says hyacinths are an excellent plant for anyone because of what they bring to your space. "You're getting to enjoy fragrance and a color spectrum, as well as a great flower that you can cut for your vases," he says. Ahead, we asked some experts for their tips on successfully growing hyacinths, whether you choose to plant them indoors or out.
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The right temperature and right amount of water in the soil are hugely important when growing hyacinths. "Allowing the bulbs to develop in cool, dark conditions is absolutely key," says Andrew Gaumond, a botanist and director of content at Petal Republic. Then, once they're ready to be planted, sunlight is paramount. Since overwatering hyacinths can quickly kill them inside or outside, a potting vessel with ample drainage is also critical; otherwise, the soil becomes too wet and muddy for them to survive.
How to Grow Hyacinths Indoors
Understand some of the hyacinth's main characteristics before you get to work. "Indoors, these plants are short-lived, so you'll only get a couple of weeks of enjoyment out of them," says Costa Farms horticulturist Justin Hancock. What can you do to keep them healthy and blooming for the longest time possible? You have to start caring for your hyacinths before you even plant them. "When growing hyacinths indoors, it is important to remember the bulbs need to be chilled for six to 10 weeks," says Susan Brandt, co-founder of Blooming Secrets. You can sometimes purchase pre-chilled hyacinths from nurseries and plant them immediately, or you can chill bulbs in a basement, garage, or refrigerator for the allotted period before planting them.
When they're ready, Gaumond says to plant the bulbs in a pot with draining holes that you've filled with a well-draining, all-purpose, neutral pH soil base. "The bulbs should be just covered by the top layer of soil, then water it slightly to moisten the soil," Gaumond explains. Next, you'll cover the potted hyacinths with a black refuse sack to protect it from any light and move the pots to a dark, cool location (Gaumond recommends a cellar or shed).
How to Grow Hyacinths Indoors
Once you've found a dark, cool place to store your potted hyacinths, Gaumond says to leave them there for at least 10 to 11 weeks. "Check back every two to three weeks to provide a little extra water if the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch," he suggests. At this point, you'll finally start to see shoots sprouting from the soil—meaning you can bring your blooms indoors. "Relocate your hyacinths to a spot in your home that receives bright, indirect light throughout the majority of the day," Gaumond says. "Somewhere near a south-facing window that's protected by sheer blinds or a partially drawn curtain would be ideal." Once they're receiving light in an optimal location, your hyacinths should reach full bloom within two to three weeks. Canale recommends checking on them once a week to make sure the soil base is still moist; if it's too dry and hydration is needed, remember that you never want the soil to be soggy or muddy.
You don't need soil to bring these blue blooms to life inside. When using specific kinds of bulb vases, as well as shallow dishes or bowls, you can successfully plant hyacinths in only pebbles and water. "Place the bulbs on top of the pebbles, pointy side up and root side down," Brandt explains. "Then fill the dish or bowl with more pebbles—just like you would with soil—until only the top third of the bulb is visible." Next, you'll pour in enough water so that the bottom of the bulb "sits just above the water," Brandt says. "Then roots will form and grow down into the water." If you're using this soil-free method, Canale says you can leave them completely alone, no check-ups necessary.
How to Grow Hyacinths Outdoors
Hyacinths may bloom in the spring, but they're planted outdoors in the fall. According to Gaumond, get your bulbs in the ground "at least a month before the chance of winter's first frost." Place your bulbs in a spot that receives sunlight for most of the day, leaving around four to five inches of space between each bulb, Gaumond adds. In addition to finding the right amount of sunlight, Hancock stresses that you should avoid planting bulbs anywhere that water tends to pool. Also, since these plants have somewhat of a shorter lifespan once they bloom, find a locale that will allow you to appreciate their beauty and fragrance while you can. "It's helpful to plant them near sidewalks or in the front of garden beds so you can see them," Hancock says.
Most neutral pH soil bases will allow hyacinths to thrive, but mixing in compost or manure will boost nutrients and help their growth, Gaumond shares. Beyond that, Hancock emphasizes planting hyacinths in any soil that drains well or dries quickly after being watered. Because hyacinths need consistent moisture to thrive, you'll want to check on the top inches of soil through the winter and spring seasons. "Check the ground by sticking your finger in, then water the hyacinths only when the soil is totally dry," Brandt says. "Usually, this is once or twice a week, depending on your climate." Moreover, make sure you let the ground dry between each watering.
Common Growing Mistakes to Avoid
For starters, Canale stresses to not plant your bulbs too deep into their soil base (four to six inches down is fine). Lastly—believe it or not—people often mistakenly plant the bulbs upside down. When you get your hyacinth bulbs, check for little hairs—these are the roots of the hyacinth that should go straight into the earth. If nothing else, locate a black circle on the bulb—this shape only appears on the bottom.