Popular for spring displays, hyacinths bring a real splash of colour to house and garden early in the gardening season. Available in a range of shades including blues, white, pink, purple, yellow and deep red. Their scent adds to their appeal too. They flower spikes are made up of a multitude of closely packed florets.

Hyacinthus, variety not identified.
Photo by FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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How to grow hyacinths

Hyacinths are bought as bulbs in autumn and are easy to grow. When choosing your hyacinths to buy you will notice that some are sold as ‘prepared’. These are the ones to buy if you want your bulbs for growing indoors to bloom around Christmas or in January. Prepared bulbs have already been treated to a period of cold, which stimulates production of the hormones required for stem extension and so brings them into growth earlier. For later flowering or growing in the garden, normal, non-prepared bulbs are fine.

When to plant hyacinth bulbs

Plant your hyacinth bulbs in autumn. They will then flower around March to April. For prepared bulbs for growing indoors, you should plant these a little earlier and allow a good 10-12 weeks before expecting them to be ready to flower. For Christmas or winter blooms, for example, plant in August/September.

How to plant hyacinth bulbs

Planting hyacinth bulbs in the garden

• Hyacinths will grow in any good, well-drained garden soil and perform well in a range of situations including borders and rockeries. They need some moisture to grow and flower properly but avoid boggy areas where they may rot. A drier situation is preferred when the leaves have died back and they are dormant in summer.

Hyacinthus 'White Pearl'
alperti/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

• Hyacinths prefer a sunny position although will be fine in semi-shade where you are happy to only have a one-year display (they won't have stored enough energy for a good second year's showing).
Plant bulbs in late September - October. Plant each bulb, pointed end upwards, 10cm deep. Leave a gap of at least 8cm between each bulb.
• To improve drainage, you can add a small handful of grit to the bottom of the planting hole.
• Autumn-planted bulbs will flower in March to April.

How to grow hyacinth indoors

• Use prepared bulbs for best results – these are widely available at garden centres.
• Choose a container big enough for 3-5 bulbs and deep enough for good root growth.

Hyacinths in a terracotta pot for indoor display
Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images

• Use multi-purpose, peat-free compost. You can also use bulb fibre compost.
• Put some crocks of gravel at the bottom of the pot to help drainage.
• Plant your bulbs so that they aren’t touching and their tips are just showing above the surface of the compost.
• Place your pot somewhere cool and dark – such as in a cupboard or shed – and leave for around 10 weeks, checking periodically to ensure it is kept moist (but not wet). After about 10 weeks, good roots should have developed during which time the roots will develop and shoots will begin to emerge.
• Once the shoot is around 3cm, bring the pot out into cool light conditions.
• In another three weeks you should begin to see some colour developing in the forming bud. You can now bring your pot into the house, or if already growing indoor, into a light warm room.
• Be aware that you may well need to stake your flowers as they can get a bit top heavy. A network of twigs works well for this. Gently push them into the soil around the bulbs and arrange so that the twigs give support.
• If you planted your prepared bulbs in August/September you should have displays in time for Christmas. Or better still, time your display for the darker days of January.

Here's more on forcing bulbs indoors

The best hyacinths to grow

Hyacinths come in three types – single hyacinths with single florets, double hyacinths, where each floret has a double ray of petals, and multiflora hyacinths that have a looser arrangement of florets on multiple flower stems. Their looser appearance can make them easier to grow in the garden where a less-formal look is preferred. The singles and doubles make good displays for growing in pots indoors.

Hyacinthus orientalis 'City of Haarlem' and 'Carnegie'
(Photo by Kathryn Scott/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Not to be mistaken with:

Grape hyacinths, which although there is a similarity in their form are a completely different species – Muscari.

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Miss Saigon’ Deep wine-coloured, compact flower spikes. 30cm

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Royal Navy'
Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Royal Navy’ Dark-blue, double flowers densely packed on to flower spikes. Highly scented. 25cm

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Gipsy Queen’ Heirloom hyacinth with single, pale salmon-orange flowers, paler towards the edge. Good fragrance. 30cm

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Delft Blue’ Mid-blue single flowers, nicely described as porcelain blue. Good scent. 30cm

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘City of Haarlem’ Soft yellow flowers make this a nice change from the more usual blues, pinks and whites. 30cm

Hyacinthus orientalis Jan Bos
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Jan Bos’ Intense magenta coloured and highly scented flowers in a compact shape. 25cm

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Paul Hermann’ Strong lilac-pink colouring and strong scent. 30cm

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Woodstock'
Jason Ingram

Hyacinth orientalis ‘Woodstock’ A rich ruby colour with emerald leaves. Good for growing indoors. 30cm

What are bulb vases and can I grow hyacinths in them?

Bulb vases as a lovely way to grow single bulbs. They are glass vases with a narrow, splayed neck the you place the bulb on to – without it falling through into the vase. Fill with water to just below the base of the sitting bulb. Place in a dark cool spot, such as a cupboard and check periodically to ensure the water is kept topped up and that the roots are beginning to grow down into the vase and the shoot is emerging. Once the shoot is 3-4cm in height, bring the vase into a sunny warm room and the bulb will soon flower.
If the water gets cloudy, carefully lift the bulb off and refresh the water. You can also add charcoal to water to help keep it fresh.

Find out more about forcing bulbs

What to do with hyacinths after flowering?

Deadhead spent flowers.
• Feed the remaining leaves regularly with a high-potassium liquid plant food until the leaves start to yellow.
• The leaves will eventually die back completely and your bulb will be left to re-grow the following spring.
• Hyacinths can re-flower for a few years, but displays may diminish each time.
• Once your pot-grown, indoor flowers have finished, you are best to plant the bulbs out into the garden. You should get some re-flowering the following year but it’s unlikely to be as fulsome as using fresh bulbs.

Hyacinthus orientalis in a less formal planting
Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images

Where to buy hyacinth bulbs

Jacques Amand International
Farmer Gracy
Kevock Garden Plants
De Jager
Bloms Bulbs
Sarah Raven
Avon Bulbs
Riverside Bulbs


Sorrel Everton is deputy editor of Gardens Illustrated.