Care for hyacinth bulbs

Hyacinths are one of our favorite spring flowers and come in such a wonderful array of colors. Many people are familiar with white, lavender and blue hyacinth colors, but they also come in yellow, peach and while more rare, you can even find bright red and dark (almost black) purple colors. Fresh cut hyacinths are a beautiful flower to use in arrangements and they are easy to care for as long as you know what to do! Follow our hyacinth care and handling tips and you’ll be a hyacinth pro in no time!

Contents

1. Hyacinths arrive in bud form

Our fresh cut hyacinths arrive in bud form so don’t be surprised when you don’t see any open blooms. They ship best in this form and the stubby base you see at the bottom of the stem is actually a part of the hyacinth bulb. When hyacinths are harvested, each stalk is carved out from the bulb.

2. Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin

Hyacinth bulbs can cause skin irritation for some people, so if you have particularly sensitive skin, avoid contact with the base of the hyacinth stems. If you want to be extra careful, wear gloves when handling hyacinths.

3. Unwrap and remove bands

On arrival, immediately unwrap the hyacinths. You’ll find that they are typically grouped in 5 stem bunches. Carefully cut away any elastic bands holding the stems together and remove any loose foliage from the stems. You may sometimes find a little sand or dirt around the base of the stems. If you want, you can give them a quick rinse to remove any debris (be sure to keep the blooms dry).

4. Do NOT cut hyacinths!

Contrary to most flower care, you should NOT cut hyacinths! The bottom of the stem is called the basal plate and leaving it intact is best for hyacinths. They’ll hydrate better and have a longer vase life if left uncut. I know it sounds strange, but just leave the stems as they are.

5. Place in clean water

Place the hyacinths in a clean vase filled with 3 to 4 inches of cool water. Make sure to use a vase that is tall enough to support the hyacinths. Similar to tulips, hyacinths continue to grow and so the longer stem and the weight of the opening blooms will sometimes cause the stems to naturally bend. You can minimize this effect by arranging them in a vase that is tall enough to support the stems upright. If you keep them in too short of a vase, the hyacinths will bend out and over the edge as they bloom.

If you’re planning to arrange the hyacinths with other flowers, you’ll want to let them hydrate at least overnight before using them in centerpieces or bouquets. You can cut them (if needed) before arranging them and we recommend wearing gloves if you have sensitive skin. Hyacinths have a sap that can be irritating to skin, so avoid contact!

6. Enjoy the blooms and fragrance!

Hyacinth blooms will begin to open up after a day in water (sometimes sooner). Make sure you don’t pack the stems too closely so they have enough room to bloom. Hyacinths have a lovely fragrance which will be more noticeable as the blooms open up.

For best vase life, you’ll want to keep your hyacinths in a cool place away from direct sunlight and drafts. Hyacinths are also sensitive to ethylene so don’t keep them near fruit (ripening fruit releases ethylene gas). You will not need to cut the stems, but change out the water every couple days to keep the flowers fresh. With proper care, most hyacinths can last up to 5-7 days.

I hope you find our hyacinth care and handling tips helpful. As you can see, they are easy to care for (no cutting shears needed!) and they have such gorgeous and fragrant blooms. You can find our full collection on our Hyacinth page and they’re available winter through spring. If you have any questions, just shoot us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

Cheers!
Ellie

How should I take care of a Hyacinth bulb growing in a vase of water?

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Bulbs in Pots

Growing Bulbs in Pots

Gardeners have been growing bulbs in pots and other containers for thousands of years. It’s a great way to:

  • enjoy the fragrance and beauty of flowers up close,
  • experiment with bulbs that are new to you,
  • easily change the look of your garden every year, and
  • grow bulbs that require specialized care.

But you can’t grow bulbs in containers the same way you do bulbs in the ground. Compared to the garden itself, even the largest containers are tiny, cramped, highly artificial worlds where the wrong potting soil, extreme temperatures, or a couple of days without water can mean the difference between success and disappointment. We hope our advice here will help, but please remember that when you grow bulbs in pots, you’re taking the place of Mother Nature, and it’s hard to do that exactly right.

On the other hand, after reviewing this page for us, our good customer and bulb-lover Elizabeth Licata of GardenRant.com offered this encouragement: “If I can do it, anyone can. I am very lazy and try to get through my gardening with as little trouble to myself as possible. So I hope your very detailed instructions don’t scare people off.”

Fall-Planted Bulbs in Pots (or jump to Spring-Planted Bulbs in Pots )

To bloom pots of bulbs indoors in the winter, see our “How to Force Just About Any Bulb in Pots of Soil.”

Outdoors for Spring Bloom

Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. If you treat them the same, you’ll probably be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you follow our advice carefully you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your terrace. Please note, though, that because so much depends on your care, we don’t guarantee the success of our fall-planted bulbs when grown in containers.

1. Choose the Right Pot and Soil

When the water in soil freezes, it expands, and that can easily break terra cotta, ceramic, and even rigid plastic pots. To avoid this, plant your bulbs in flexible plastic pots — common black plastic nursery pots, for example — and then slip these pots into decorative cache-pots in spring when the bulbs start to bloom.

As for soil, even the best garden soil is usually too heavy or dense for growing bulbs in pots, and many popular potting soils will cause problems, too. Look for one that’s relatively porous and fast-draining, with a good percentage of perlite, vermiculite, or bark. Avoid mixes that are virtually all peat moss because they often stay too wet for bulbs. Avoid mushroom compost and manure, too.

2. Plant Bulbs Shallowly and Close Together

Plant bulbs close together, as shown here
by Elizabeth Licata, gardenrant.com

Bulbs in pots are typically planted much closer together and less deep than bulbs in the ground. (If, however, your containers are very large and more like garden beds than pots — such as in a roof-top garden — it’s best to stick to standard recommendations for depths and spacing.) Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth. Arrange tulip bulbs with their flat side facing out for a neater display of leaves.

For a more lavish look, some experts recommend setting one layer of bulbs just above another, alternating so that bulbs are not directly on top of one another — but we say leave that to the experts. One layer of bulbs is plenty, and overcrowding can lead to problems.

Another thing we don’t recommend is combining different types of bulbs in one pot. Rooting and blooming times vary so much for different bulbs that the results are often disappointing, especially for beginners.

3. Keep Bulbs Cold But Not TOO Cold

In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground — where the earth protects them like a huge insulating blanket — and that can be deadly. Even in the coldest parts of the country, the soil a few feet below the surface rarely freezes, and a bulb planted six inches underground will enjoy relatively balmy temperatures compared to one that’s in a pot on top of the soil. Bulbs that are hardy in zone 5, for example, are hardy UNDERGROUND in zone 5, not in an above-ground container where the temperatures can easily be 20 degrees colder. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as it is outside.

A simple pot of bulbs can have a dramatic impact.
Photo by tanyasgarden.blogspot.com.

Cold is essential, though! Almost all fall-planted bulbs need a certain number of hours below 48° F in order to complete the chemical changes that allow their flower stems to emerge and grow to a normal height. (This is nature’s way of preventing them from blooming during a mid-winter thaw.) The hours of “chill time” needed varies widely — tulips, for example, need a lot, while some tazetta narcissus need almost none — but if you don’t give your bulbs the cold they need, they’ll either bloom on very short stems or not at all.

Finding a spot where the temperatures are just right for your potted bulbs can be a challenge, and it all depends on how cold your part of the country gets. In some areas you can simply set them in the shade on the north side of your house, but in most places this will be either too cold or too warm. If it’s too cold, one choice is to bury the pots in the ground — maybe in your vegetable garden, for example . Put a layer of rocks under the pots for drainage, make sure the bulbs are at least as deep as they’d be if you planted them directly in the ground, and mulch with a foot or two of straw or hay. Or try them in an unheated mudroom, attic, or crawl-space, attached garage, or refrigerator (although see #5 below). If it’s too warm outside — as it may be in zone 7 and definitely in zones 8, 9, and 10 — you’ll need to “pre-chill” your potted bulbs in the refrigerator (not freezer) for 8-10 weeks either before or after planting them.

The best way to monitor temperatures in any of these places, even in the dead of night when you’re asleep, is with a maximum-minimum thermometer, available at any good garden center.

4. Protect from Freeze-Thaw Damage — and Mice, Etc.

Bulbs in pots can also be damaged by what is called the freeze-thaw cycle. Although bulbs in the ground will enjoy relatively steady temperatures, soil temperatures in containers can fluctuate dramatically from day to night. This is even more of a problem for containers in direct sun. During the day soil temperatures can skyrocket, even on a day that’s barely above freezing, thawing the soil and stimulating the bulbs to grow as if it’s spring. Then at night when air temperatures plummet, the soil in the unprotected container quickly cools and can easily freeze. This daily cycle of freezing and thawing breaks roots and weakens the bulbs. To avoid this, keep your containers in a cool SHADED spot until it’s spring and leaves have emerged an inch or more above ground.

Mice, chipmunks, and other rodents can be even more destructive. Jane Baldwin, whose tips for growing bulbs in baskets are featured below, told us that “mice and other critters were the sole cause of failure for me. I think the best solution is to either (a) store the pots in a tight closet in the garage or (b) upturn larger pots over each of them, but I’ve also stored them in old-fashioned galvanized garbage cans.”

Even unusual bulbs such as
snake’s-head fritillaries
can be grown in pots.
Childs catalog, 1897, NY

5. Use Your Garage and Refrigerator with Caution

Most detached garages offer very little protection from the cold, but they may work for some bulbs in some zones. In other words, proceed with caution. Elizabeth Licata, who gardens in zone-6a Buffalo, NY, stores her potted bulbs in an detached garage and says, “I’ve never lost any tulips, regardless of the size of the pot or the coldness of the winter.” Hyacinths, on the other hand, haven’t done well in her garage, which makes sense because they’re less winter-hardy than tulips.

Attached garages are usually a much better place to store potted bulbs — if you keep the doors closed. The warmest areas are typically higher (heat rises) and next to the wall of the house (where heat radiates out). Unfortunately automobile exhaust fumes contain ethylene gas which can cause flower buds to abort, so if you warm up your car in the garage on cold mornings, you may end up with pots of great foliage in the spring but no flowers.

Ethylene gas is also released by ripening fruit, so if you store your bulbs in the refrigerator, seal fruit tightly in impermeable plastic bags and keep it as far away from your bulbs as possible.

6. Keep Soil Moist but Not Soggy

Since the dry peat moss in potting soil can be difficult to wet thoroughly, water your bulbs well after planting and then let the pot stand in a saucer of water for an hour or more to allow the potting soil to soak up more water. Once you’re sure the soil is wet throughout the pot, remove the pot from the saucer, allow excess water to drain out, and then return it to the empty saucer.

Use your finger to check soil moisture at least weekly throughout the winter. (Put a reminder in your phone or a note on your calendar.) Soil should be moist but never soggy. When the bulbs are just starting to grow, you’ll need to water infrequently, but later when roots fill the pot and top growth emerges, the soil will dry out much more quickly, so pay attention. Remember that a pot is a small, closed system and if your bulbs can’t get all the water they need, all the time, their growth and bloom will suffer.

If your potted bulbs are outside, you may need to protect them from getting too wet in the winter. During extended wet periods, cover the pots or move them to a sheltered spot. Bulbs that stay too wet for too long, especially tulips, will die.

Don’t water when the soil in your pots is frozen.

7. Ease into Spring

If everything has gone as planned, roots will eventually fill the pot and show at the hole(s) in the bottom. Foliage will start to emerge above the soil, and as spring approaches and temperatures rise, it will get increasingly difficult to hold this back. Once the leaves are taller than a couple of inches, move the pot gradually into brighter light and eventually full sun. Water as needed, maybe even daily once flower buds show. In the burgeoning rush of spring growth, it’s hard to overwater bulbs, although even then they never want to be water-logged.

When the buds start to open, move the pot wherever you want — and enjoy!

8. After Bloom, Compost or Replant in the Garden

When blooms fade, you can either (a) compost the bulbs, (b) replant them in the garden immediately, making sure to get their bases as deep as they would be if you had planted them there to start with, or (c) move the pot into a sunny, out-of-the-way spot (ideally buried in the ground to keep the bulbs cool) and keep them growing strongly for as long as possible. When the foliage yellows, empty the bulbs from the pots, dry completely, remove the foliage, and store in a cool, dry, well ventilated spot until it’s time to replant them in the garden in the fall. Although they may not bloom the following year, with luck and good care they’ll bounce back from their life in confinement and bloom again in future years.

Here’s How One Customer Did It: Jane’s Easy Daffodil Baskets

When our good customer Jane Baldwin of zone-6a Moreland Hills, Ohio, found herself with surplus bulbs late one fall, she improvised an easy solution that ended up delighting her.

“A couple of years ago,” she writes, “I got caught by early snow so I planted the last of my daffodils in baskets. It looked fabulous and I highly recommend this to anyone, even if you’re not in the same predicament. In fact, it’s how I’m planting most of the daffs I ordered from you this fall.

“The baskets were just ones I found in the garage when we moved in. They were nothing fancy, older and seasoned by years of

‘Beersheeba’ in bloom on Jane’s terrace.

use, approximately 6 inches deep and 1-3 feet across. I put a few inches of good potting soil in them and then planted the bulbs right smack against one another with their tips just barely covered by the soil. Smaller-flowered varieties such as ‘Thalia’ went in the smaller baskets and bigger ones such as ‘Carlton’ in the bigger baskets.

“I put them in our attached garage so they would get the necessary cold, and made sure that mice couldn’t get to them. I watered them at first but eventually the soil froze. At the end of winter when it started to thaw, I brought the baskets out on the patio to a sunny spot where they bloomed to perfection. Even though there were only 2-3 inches of soil under the bulbs and they were planted right next to each other, they performed just fine and looked exquisite in the baskets for a good long time. It was really very easy, and even our chipmunks and squirrels left them alone out there.

“At the end of spring I took the bulbs out of the baskets and kept them dry over the summer in the garage. Now they are planted on a hillside along my driveway where they continue to bloom beautifully — and every fall I plant more in baskets.”

Spring-Planted Bulbs in Pots (or go back to Fall-Planted Bulbs in Pots )

Most spring-planted bulbs are easier to grow in containers than fall-planted bulbs, and very rewarding. Once you’ve enjoyed the fragrance of a pot of tuberoses in full bloom, for example, we bet you won’t want to garden another summer without them.

Yes, containers are tiny, cramped, highly artificial worlds where even a small mistake can lead to disappointment, but if you follow our advice carefully, you can have pots full of beauty and fun all summer long!

A Few Basic Tips for Success

Pots of ‘Mexican Single’ tuberoses and annuals
make a welcoming display at our back door.

1. Choose the Right Pot and Soil

When choosing pots, keep in mind that (a) spring-planted bulbs have a much longer growing season than fall-planted bulbs do and (b) some grow much larger. That means you can’t cram them in as tightly as you would fall-planted bulbs, so you need roomier pots. Some bulbs will also appreciate the cooling protection of a cache-pot. For guidance, see tips #2, #5, and our bulb-by-bulb advice below.

To avoid drowning your bulbs, especially those that will sit out in the rain, avoid pots without drain holes, and glazed or plastic saucers.

Potting soil usually works better in pots than garden soil because it holds more moisture and allows roots to penetrate and bulbs to expand more easily. Quality varies widely, though, so avoid bargain-priced brands, and choose a soil that’s relatively porous and fast-draining, with a good percentage of perlite, vermiculite, or bark.

2. Plant Most Bulbs — But Not All — Separately, Shallowly, and Close Together

Plant most spring-planted bulbs so they’re closer and shallower than they would be in the ground — but not as close and shallow as fall-planted bulbs in pots. The goal is to make the most of the limited space, but since spring-planted bulbs have to support top-growth all summer long instead of for just a few weeks in the spring, they need more room. This is especially true for dahlias and cannas because (a) they get so big and (b) if their growth slows or stops, so will their blooming. See our bulb-by-bulb tips below for guidance.

Like most gardeners, we enjoy combining all sorts of annuals in pots, but in our experience most bulbs do better when potted separately. That allows you to give each type the individualized care it needs to grow and bloom best, and as summer advances you can easily rearrange the pots and move those in full bloom into the spotlight.

3. Water Regularly — Sometimes Daily

The dry peat moss in potting soils can be difficult to wet thoroughly, so the first time you water your newly planted bulbs, let the pot stand in a saucer of water for up to an hour in order to soak up as much moisture as possible.

When bulbs are growing vigorously, pots can dry out quickly. Check the soil with your finger daily, and water as needed to keep it moist but not soggy. Early in the season when bulbs are just getting started and the weather is cool you’ll need to water less, but later when there’s a lot of top growth, the weather is hot, and roots have filled the pot so completely that there’s less soil left to hold moisture, you’ll need to water more — often daily, and sometimes even more!

To help give your bulbs more water when they need it, set a saucer under each pot and water until it’s at least partially filled. Be careful, though, especially when bulbs are just getting started or growth is slow, because constantly soggy soil will cause most bulbs to rot and die. The goal is to give them a reservoir to draw on for a few hours. If there’s still water in the saucer, say, eight hours later, dump it out and water less next time.

Plastic and glazed saucers hold water longer than unglazed terra cotta ones. That can be good or bad depending on the plants’ needs, so keep that in mind when using them.

If your pots are open to the rain, be sure to empty their saucers after every shower to avoid water-logged soil and root rot. This is even more of a danger with pots or cache-pots that lack drain holes, which is why we recommend you avoid them altogether.

4. Fertilize Regularly but Judiciously

Unlike their fall-planted cousins, spring-planted bulbs in pots need to be fertilized. Their growing season is long and their pots are small, so eventually they’ll exhaust the nutrition that’s in the potting soil and their growth and blooming will falter. To remedy this, wait until the plant is in full growth and then simply add a bit of liquid or water-soluble fertilizer to your watering can every few weeks. Although “all-purpose” fertilizers will work just fine, you might want to use something like Miracle-Gro Bloom Booster which has more phosphorus to promote flowering. Of course there are many good organic fertilizers available, too.

Whatever you do, remember that (a) big plants such as dahlias and cannas will need a lot more fertilizer than small plants such as rain lilies, and (b) too much fertilizer can be deadly, so use your green-thumb intuition and fertilize judiciously.

5. Give Them Plenty of Sun, but Protect from TOO Much Heat

Double tuberose,
Briggs & Bros., 1875.

Most spring-planted bulbs need at least a half-day of full sun to grow and bloom well, and they’ll do better with more. This is especially true in the north where sunlight is never as strong as it is further south. Of course a spot that’s in full sun in mid-summer when the sun is high in the sky can fall into shade later in the season as the angle of the sun declines, so keep an eye on this and move your pots as needed.

Sunny spots can get very hot, though, which may cause problems for some bulbs. Soil in pots heats up much faster than soil in the ground, and if a pot is set on a deck or paving, or near a south or west wall, it will get even hotter and stay warm longer. In cooler parts of the country, some bulbs such as tuberoses, rain lilies, and crinums will appreciate the extra heat, but glads and especially dahlias won’t.

To keep soil cooler, double-pot your bulbs by planting them in one pot — say a common black-plastic nursery pot — and then slipping that inside a decorative cache-pot. The outer pot will shade the inner pot, and the air space between the two will slow the transfer of heat. Just make sure the cache-pots have drainage holes, to avoid drowning your bulbs.

Another way to cool pots is to raise them even slightly off the deck, terrace, or other hard surface they’re sitting on. Wood, concrete, stone, and brick can all get very hot when the sun is beating down on them, and they’ll hold the heat long after the sun is gone. Although some bulbs will thrive with the extra heat, others will struggle — so see our bulb-by-bulb tips below. To cool pots, raise them (or their saucers) off the deck or paving by setting them on a few small sticks or rocks. Even a ¼-inch air space will help reduce the heat transfer. You can raise pots higher by setting them on overturned pots and other pedestals, but even then providing a bit of air space between the pot (or its saucer) and whatever you set it on will help keep it cooler.

Finally, avoid too much heat by keeping pots away from south and west walls where the sun’s direct rays can create oven-like conditions.

6. Try a Few Pots IN the Garden

Don’t restrict your pots to the porch, deck, or patio. They make great accents and focal points out in the garden, too, and visually link garden and house. Since they’re so portable, it’s easy to switch pots around so the ones in full bloom are always in prime spots, and when a pot of tuberoses starts to bloom you can set it wherever you’ll most appreciate its evening fragrance — maybe even under your bedroom window.

Another great way to enjoy pots of bulbs such as glads or tuberoses in the garden is to plant them in black plastic nursery pots, grow them in an out of the way spot like your vegetable garden or back of the border, and then when they start blooming move them wherever you need some excitement. There’s usually no need to bury the pots. Just set them on top of the soil where the foliage of other plants will mask them from view — and don’t forget to water them whenever you water your other pots.

7. When the Season Ends, Compost or Store

Most spring-planted bulbs aren’t winter-hardy in much of the country, which is why they’re planted in spring instead of fall. And even if they ARE hardy in your zone, that means they’re hardy when grown in the ground — where the earth protects them like a huge insulating blanket — not in pots above ground where temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees colder, the equivalent of two full hardiness zones.

Pink rain lilies bloom in a short “bulb pot”
on our old-house porch.

As winter approaches it’s perfectly fine to dump your bulbs out of their pots and compost them, just as you would fuchsias, tomatoes, or any other plants that aren’t hardy in your zone.

If you want to, though, it’s easy to store most spring-planted bulbs indoors during the winter. For example, here in zone 6a we keep our pots of rain lilies growing outside as long as possible in the fall, making sure they get as much sunlight as possible as the waning sun sinks lower in the sky. When the first frost threatens, we move them to a warm spot overnight and then back into the sun in the morning when it warms up again. Weeks later when the weather gets so cold that we’re doing this almost every night, we simply move the pots to a dim, cool, well-ventilated spot on our basement floor and stop watering them completely so the foliage will wither and the bulbs go dormant. Then we put a note in our phone to start checking on them in early spring for the first signs of new growth.

Once green sprouts start to emerge — which is often much earlier than you’d expect — you’ll probably want to move the pot into the sunniest spot you can find and start watering it lightly. However, if warm weather is still a long way off, we often delay that for a couple of weeks and the bulbs seem to cope. The sooner you can get the pots outside in full sun, the stronger the foliage will be, but remember these are tender bulbs and they can’t take as much cold as hardy bulbs such as daffodils. When you start putting them outside, harden them off gradually as you would seedlings you’ve started inside. Leave them for just an hour or two at first, in a sunny spot that’s sheltered from the wind, and then gradually extend their time outdoors a little more every day, giving the foliage a chance to toughen up and adjust to life outside.

Of course you can also empty your pots in the fall and store the bulbs in mesh bags, plastic tubs, etc. See our “care” links below for easy instructions. But remember — composting is also a perfectly honorable choice!

Bulb-by-Bulb Tips

Cannas

No matter how big of a pot we put them in, cannas never get as big or bloom as much as when we plant in the ground, so be prepared for that. They like heat, so they often do better on decks and paving where it may get too hot for other bulbs. They’ll want a lot of water once they get going, so keep their saucers filled. They’re big plants and the more stalks they produce, the more they’ll bloom, so fertilize regularly. Be careful, though, because if their rhizomes multiply to the point where they fill the pot, they can break it. To learn more, see our complete info on canna care.

Plant crinums a bit deeper
than shown here in Henderson’s
Bulb Culture, 1912.

Crinums

We grow our crinums in pots, and we love them, but they’re more of a challenge in pots than most spring-planted bulbs are. They’re big bulbs — some will grow to football size over time — and their thick, permanent roots can quickly fill a pot completely. That makes watering difficult and may eventually break the pot. To learn more, read the advice of two of our northern customers, and see our info on crinum care.

Crocosmia

Crocosmia are slender-growing and combine well in pots with other plants, although they’re also striking when grown alone. Give them plenty of sun and water. To learn more, see our complete info on crocosmia care.

Dahlias

Dahlias grow big, so give them as much room as possible, and plenty of water and fertilizer once they get going. To bloom well, they need lots of sun but even more importantly they need to be cool at night, so see our advice in tip #5 above. Don’t forget you’ll need to stake most of them (although short ‘Lutt Wichen’ and ‘Madame Stappers’ need little or no support). In winter, you can store them right in their pots in a cool, dry spot. To learn more, see our complete info on dahlia care.

Daylilies

Daylilies are hardy perennials that need an extended cold period every winter, which means you can’t store them inside. We don’t encourage growing them in pots, but if you want to try it, follow and adapt our advice for FALL-planted bulbs, above.

Gladiolus

We often plant glads in black plastic nursery pots and then when they bloom we set them into the garden wherever a splash of color is needed. As a bonus, the rigid sides of pots help keep glads standing upright better than they often do when planted in the ground. To learn more, see our complete info on gladiolus care.

Iris

We don’t recommend growing iris in pots, but if you want to give it a try, follow and adapt our advice for FALL-planted bulbs, above. (And please let us know how they do!)

Rain Lilies

Rain lilies are great in pots, and were once commonly grown that way, even in the North. For us they seem to do best in pots that are shorter than they are wide, such as those sold as “azalea pots” or “bulb pots.” Plant the small bulbs close together — 50 in a 10-inch pot isn’t too many — and once they get going, water and fertilize them regularly. Bloom may be modest the first year as the bulbs settle in, but with good care they will bulk up and give you more flowers every year. Keep them growing outside as long as possible in the fall — a bit of cold weather may increase future bloom — and then store dry and cool indoors through the winter.

To learn more, read one Wisconsin gardener’s inspiring 100-year-long success story with pink rain lilies — which “thrive on neglect,” she says — and see our advice on rain lily care.

Tuberoses

Richly fragrant tuberoses are our #1 favorite bulb for pots. In the North, we always recommend growing them that way, so you can give them maximum heat and sun. In winter, simply store the pots dry inside in a cool spot. When spring returns, bring them back outside, water and fertilize regularly, and they’ll bloom again. After their second summer, though, the rhizomes will have become so crowded that you’ll need to repot them. To learn more, see our complete info on tuberose care.

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Hyacinthus

Hyacinths are a perennial, bulbous spring flower from the genus Hyacinthus in the Asparagaceae or asparagus family.

Sweetly fragrant with a delicate, fresh scent, each hyacinth bulb produces 4-6 narrow, upright leaves and 1-3 spikes of fragrant star-shaped flowers in colors of blue, lavender, orange, peach, red, pink, yellow, and white.

Winter hardy in zones 4-8, these pretty, perfumed blooms enjoy full or partial sun and typically appear from March to April, growing to a height of 8-12 inches.

Native to the eastern Mediterranean basin, Asia Minor, and parts of the Middle East, the Dutch hyacinth, H. orientalis, is the common garden variety –not to be confused with the much smaller flowers of the genus Muscari, known as grape hyacinths.

A Storied Past

H. orientalis is the single species that gave rise to the extensive range of florists’ hyacinths and garden varieties available today, with cultivated cross-breeding dating back as far as the sixteenth century.

Popular throughout antiquity, hyacinths were extensively cultivated in gardens of the Ottoman Empire. The flowers were first introduced to Europe in the mid-1500s when a Flemish diplomat sent home a package of exotic Eastern bulbs from the court of Suleiman the Magnificent.

A white hyacinth, and a purple grape hyacinth or muscari.

Their appeal quickly caught on, and in the eighteenth century, the first double cultivar was produced – with a single bulb fetching the handsome price of 1000 gold florins! And at one point in the heyday of bulb mania, there were over 2000 varieties of hyacinths available.

Today, just over 60 hyacinth cultivars are in commercial production with about half that number available for the home gardener.

Roman hyacinths, H. orientalis albulus, are a wild, early flowering strain from southern France that features loose flowers on a slender spike. At one time they were popular for indoor growth, but have mostly been replaced today by showier cultivars.

In literature, the Greeks were the first to write about hyacinths. Sometime between the tenth and eighth centuries BC, Homer described them as being part of the floral couch used by Hera, queen of heaven and earth.

The name hyacinth is derived from the Greek huakinthos, a plant identified as the flower in the myth of Hyacinthus.

A golden boy who was much adored by the gods Apollo and Zephyrus, Hyacinthus was accidentally, and mortally, injured by a discus. To prevent death from snatching this beloved youth away, the grief-stricken Apollo transformed him into a flower of divine hue and fragrance.

Well done, Apollo! Now, let’s look at the varieties you should know about so you can enjoy the handiwork of the Gods yourself at home.

Know Your Varieties for Best Results

Singles

Full heads of reflexed flowers on a thick stalk are the classic standard for striking displays in the garden, or indoors.

Doubles

Dense whorls of double-petaled flowers on a stout stalk make a thick mat of colorful blooms.

Multifloras

Each bulb produces numerous flowering stalks, but flower density is looser, in a more relaxed arrangement.

Plantings can be laid out in single colors, two-tones, or multicolored schemes in formal or relaxed arrangements, borders, cast in lawns and under trees, or in containers.

Where to Purchase

Purchase hyacinths in early autumn at your favorite nursery or seed catalog, or online.

H. Orientalis Blue Blend

You can find a beautiful blue blend of hyacinths from Daylily Nursery, available on Amazon.

Pre-Chilled ‘Snow Drift’ H. Orientalis

For an eye-catching two-tone effect, add some pure white ‘Snow Drift’ hyacinths from Marde Ross & Co., available in packages of 5 on Amazon.

Once your order arrives, it’s time to plant!

Preparation and Planting

Hyacinths perform best in moderately fertile soil. They enjoy good drainage, and a full to part-sun location.

To enjoy their brilliant colors and fragrance, hyacinths need to be planted in the fall. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Plant approximately 6-8 weeks before the onset of expected hard frosts, or when the soil temperatures in your area start to fall below 60°F.
  • Prepare the growing site by loosening the soil with a fork to a depth of 12-16 inches, then amend with 2-4 inches of organic materials such as mature compost or well-rotted fertilizer.
  • Dig holes approximately 4 inches deep and mix in some bone meal.
  • Set bulbs firmly in place, root end (i.e. widest end) down.
  • Space a minimum of 3 inches apart, in clusters or rows.
  • Cover with soil, firming gently in place.
  • Water thoroughly after planting.
  • Once leaves emerge in spring, sprinkle their bases with a slow-release bulb formula fertilizer with a formula of approximately 5-10-5.
  • Remove blooms once they begin to brown, but allow the leaves to die back on their own.
  • Plant hyacinths in high traffic areas to enjoy their sweet perfume.

Creative Containers

Planting in containers is another easy way to enjoy the beauty of hyacinths, either indoors or outside. Try these tips:

  • Use a good potting soil or coconut coir mixed with 1 part compost, 1 part sand, and a sprinkle of bone meal. We like these peat-free coconut coir pellets from Window Garden, available on Amazon.

Fiber Soil, 12 Quarts + Hydrating Bag

  • Ensure a layer of drainage material lines the container bottom – they can’t abide wet feet.
  • Plant 4 inches deep and pack closer together than ground plantings, 1-3 inches apart.
  • Cover with soil, and water to settle bulbs in place.
  • Because they may be susceptible to frost damage, wrap containers with a layer of insulation such as bubble wrap.
  • Set in a sheltered location over winter, and as bulbs begin to swell, unwrap the insulation and move to a sunny site where they can be enjoyed outdoors, or inside on a cool windowsill.
  • As leaves emerge, sprinkle with a slow-release bulb food or a fertilizer with a formula around 5-10-5. Dr. Earth’s 4-pound bag of premium organic bulb food has a 3-15-2 formula, and is available on Amazon.

Dr. Earth Organic Bulb Fertilizer, 4-Pound Bag

  • Water regularly before and during blooming, reducing frequency after the flowers fade and leaves begin to die back.
  • After flowers have finished, return the pot to a sheltered spot in the garden. Remove spent flowerheads promptly, but allow leaves to die back on their own.
  • Once all foliage has died, bulbs can be lifted and stored in a cool, dry, and dark location until fall planting. The same can be done with potted hyacinths received as gifts in the springtime.

For Indoor Forcing

Like narcissus, hyacinths can be grown indoors in a soil mix, or simply in a vase of water.

To plant in soil, prepare, plant, and care for them as described above, but use smaller containers suitable for indoor spots like windowsills.

If your indoor containers lack drainage holes, layer the bottom with bulb fiber.

Use prepared bulbs that have been pre-chilled; those that haven’t been prepared this way ahead of time will need 6-10 weeks of cold weather storage in a root cellar, shed, garage, or refrigerator.

For storage in a refrigerator, place in a paper bag and tuck into the bottom of the fridge, away from fruits and veggies – the ethane gas that they produce can cause them to grow or develop flowers early.

Once chilled, follow the steps outlined above in the section on container plantings.

HomArt Recycled Glass Tall Bulb Vase

Hyacinths can also be grown in water using a bulb vase. We like this tall one made of recycled glass form HomArt because it keeps the foliage neat. It’s available on Amazon.

  • Place bulbs in the vase, fill with water to just cover the roots, and set in a cool, dark location until a mass of roots forms.
  • Once shoots have grown to 3-4 inches, move to a sunny location and maintain the water level. In just a few weeks, you’ll be enjoying a beautiful flower!
  • Hyacinths grown in water aren’t suitable to go in the garden and should be composted once flowering is finished.
  • To enjoy over the winter holiday season, plant a succession of bulbs every two weeks from the start of September through mid-October.

Wondering what to do with your hyacinths once they’ve finished flowering? I’m glad you asked…

After-Flower Care

Garden hyacinths are winter hardy for growing zones 4-8, and can remain underground throughout the year in these zones. But if your winter temperatures remain above 60°F, it’s advisable to dig them up in the autumn and chill them for 6-10 weeks, as outlined in the section on indoor forcing above.

Those grown in containers can be transplanted to the garden to re-bloom the following spring.

Once the foliage dies back, unearth the bulbs and store until autumn, then plant according to the outline I’ve described in the section on planting preparations.

Whether grown in the ground or in pots, remove the spent flowerheads to prevent seeding, but leave the leaves – they’re needed for photosynthesis to store energy and fuel your hyacinth plants for next year.

Reduce watering once the leaves begin to die off, but keep your hyacinths moist in dry conditions.

In regions with severe winter temperatures or hard spring frosts, a thick 2 to 4-inch layer of protective mulch should be applied and left in place until the danger of frost has passed.

Unfortunately, flower quality tends to decline after the initial planting year, which is why many folks treat these plants as a tender perennial, expecting only 2-3 years of robust blooms.

The reason their flowers are so spectacular the first year is due to the commercial growers’ precisely controlled, fertile environment and a special post-harvest heat treatment that promotes dense spikes of grand flowers. Since these conditions don’t typically occur in nature, they are difficult for the home gardener to reproduce.

Plan to buy more in the fall, or use some of your existing stock to propagate new bulbs.

Lifting and Storing

For practical reasons, like reusing containers or freeing up prime real estate in the garden, bulbs can be lifted and stored until autumn. But leave in place those that have naturalized under deciduous trees and shrubs, in grassy areas, or that have permanent homes in beds or planters.

Once flowers have finished and the foliage has died back, use a garden fork or hand fork to carefully lift and remove them from the soil.

Brush clean of soil, trim the roots, and trim or tidy the loose, papery outer layer – known as the “tunic.”

Keep only healthy, larger-sized specimens and discard diseased or damaged ones.

To prevent the development of fungal rot in storage, lay bulbs on drying racks or trays to air dry for 24-48 hours.

Place in paper bags or mesh nets and store in a cool, dry, and dark location until planting time arrives in autumn.

It should be noted that all parts of hyacinths are toxic to humans and pets, due to the calcium oxalate and lycorine that they contain. Be sure to keep cats, dogs, horses, and children who like to put things in their mouths away from these.

Pests and Problems

Just a few pests and diseases may bug these beauties, keeping them from reaching their full potential in the garden.

Here’s what to look out for:

Basal Rot

A fungal disease that can attack in soil temperatures around 65-75°F. Leaf and root growth is stunted, and the bottom of the bulb becomes soft and rotted.

Discard any diseased bulbs, and dust bulbs with a fungicide before planting. Don’t replant similar species in the same spot for at least 3 years if basal rot has been detected.

Frost Injury

Leaves and stems can be damaged by late spring frosts, with brown spots and blotches or split, ragged edges.

Provide a thick mulch of 2-4 inches over the bulbs after the ground freezes.

Squirrels, Chipmunks, and Other Wildlife

Despite being toxic, rodents and other animals still like digging up bulbs! Everything from squirrels and chipmunks to voles and groundhogs – even skunks! – might like digging for these fresh, juicy enticements.

To provide some added protection, make tin can sleeves by opening both ends of a can and planting inside the sleeve. Set the bulbs close to the bottom, at about 4 inches, with the rim just below ground level. The open-ended can allows roots to spread while protecting the bulb from gnawing critters.

Eastern Treasures

With their sweet fragrance and vibrant colors, hyacinths appear like sparkling jewels in the early spring garden.

Fantastic in mass plantings, they also dazzle in borders and along pathways, in naturalized settings, and in containers – anywhere their lovely scent can be enjoyed!

Remember to save some for indoor forcing. Choose treated bulbs that don’t require an extended chill, or start chilling your own in two-week increments at the start of September to enjoy over the winter months.

Do you folks have any questions or favorite ways to use hyacinths? Drop us a note in the comments below, and be sure to check out our article on forcing bulbs for detailed indoor growing instructions.

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Product photos via Daylily Nursery, Marde Ross & Co., Window Garden, and Dr. Earth, and HomArt. Uncredited photos: .

About Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

Indoor Hyacinth Care: Caring For Hyacinth Houseplants Post Flowering

Because of their attractive flowers and delicious smell, potted hyacinths are a popular gift. Once they’re done blooming, though, don’t rush to throw them away. With a little care, you can keep your indoor hyacinth after blooming to ensure many more fragrant blossoms in the future. Keep reading to learn more about hyacinth care indoors after blooming.

Hyacinth Care Indoors After Flowering

After 8 to 12 weeks of blooming, your hyacinth will begin to go dormant. First the flowers will die, and eventually the leaves will wither. When most of the flowers are brown, cut the entire flower stalk off. This is called deadheading.

The foliage will still be green at this point, and should be left to die off naturally. Be careful not to break or bend the leaves, as this can prevent the plant from storing up much needed energy for its next blooming cycle.

Feed your plant with a good indoor plant fertilizer to build up even more of this energy. Don’t over water, though. Hyacinth bulbs are prone to bulb rot if watered too vigorously.

What to Do With Indoor Hyacinth After Blooming

Eventually, the leaves will wither and brown. This isn’t your fault – it’s just the plant’s natural cycle. Once the leaves are dead, cut the entire plant back to soil level, so only bulb and roots remain.

Move your pot to a cold, dark space. You may even want to put a paper grocery or black garbage bag over the pot to keep out the light. Don’t touch your hyacinth until the spring. At that point, begin to expose it gradually to light, and it should begin to send up new shoots.

Hyacinths propagate by sending up daughter shoots, meaning your plant will take up more and more space each year. If your pot seemed just big enough last year, move the plant, while it’s still dormant, into a bigger pot, or plant it outside in your garden to give it more room to grow.

Container Grown Hyacinths: How To Plant Hyacinth Bulbs In Pots

Hyacinths are famous for their pleasant fragrance. They also grow very well in pots, meaning once they’re in bloom you can move them wherever you’d like, perfuming a patio, a walkway, or a room in your house. Keep reading to learn about how to plant hyacinth bulbs in pots.

How to Plant Hyacinth Bulbs in Pots

Container grown hyacinths are not difficult to grow. Hyacinths bloom in the spring, but their bulbs take a long time to establish roots, which means they should be planted in autumn.

Pick out enough containers that your bulbs can fit in them close together but not touching. Numbers will

vary with the size of your bulbs, but this should equal about 7 bulbs for an 8-inch container, 9 for 10-inch pots, and 10 to 12 bulbs for 12- to 15-inch containers.

Try to group bulbs of the same color in the same container, or else they might bloom at drastically different times and give your container a thin, unbalanced look.

Lay a 2-inch layer of potting material in the bottom of the pot, moisten it, and lightly pat it down. Gently press the bulbs into the material with the pointed end facing up. Add more potting material, pressing it down gently, until just the tips of the bulbs are visible.

Caring for Hyacinths in Containers

Once you’ve planted your bulbs, keep the containers in a dark place below 50 F. (10 C.). If you live in an area that doesn’t get colder than 25 F. (-4 C.), you can leave them outside. Keep light off the containers by covering them in brown paper or garbage bags.

In the spring, begin gradually exposing the containers to light. After a few weeks, the bulbs should have produced 3-5 shoots. Move the containers to full sun and let them bloom.

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